Aug 012013
 
Hell on Wheels Season Three Trailer

Season Two was a definite improvement over the first season, but the departure of both Joe and Tony Gayton, the creators, and John Shiban, the show runner, right after the series was renewed for a third season threatened to prematurely end the show. Fortunately, John Wirth, who had previously produced Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, came on board. Since roughly half the cast were killed off in the previous season, he has a tremendous opportunity to move the focus of the show away from a soap opera with three separate love triangles to the actual construction of the railroad.

The first season was very uneven, and while the second season was much more enjoyable, the writers were far from faithful to the historical record, inventing robber gangs and an attack by the Sioux that seemed to be a dress rehearsal for the Little Bighorn. Hopefully, the third season will keep the improved writing but actually follow what is written in the history books and present the construction of the transcontinental railroad as the mind-boggling technical achievement that it was. Read More…

Jun 202013
 
Copper Season Two Trailer

Season Two of Copper will start on June 23. The weakness of the first season was its fixation with the characters’ personal lives, making it a show about people playing dress-up in New York City during the American Civil War, instead of an actual police show. Since the only characters with any spark of life are Annie Reilly (Kiara Glasco), a twelve-year-old former child prostitute and the second-creepiest female character on TV, and Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), who spends every moment of every day lounging around drinking, the producers have wisely decided to spice up the cast. Donal Logue has been brought in as Brigadier General Brendan Donovan, a ward boss and trusted lieutenant of Boss Tweed, boss of the Democratic Party political machine in New York. Aside from Logue, two former OZ cast-members will join the show. Eamonn Walker will play famed abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglas, and Lee Tergeson will play a criminal mastermind. Most important, they recruited Andrew Howard, whose ‘Bad’ Frank Phillips, Pinkerton and bounty hunter, was the standout character on last year’s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries. Set before President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the season will deal with the recent passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and political corruption, while hopefully presenting some of the lawlessness that Five Points was famous for. Read More…

Apr 292013
 
The James-Younger Gang

Frank and Jesse James and Cole Younger had ridden with Confederate guerrillas William Clarke Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson along the Kansas-Missouri border during the American Civil War (1861-1865). When the war ended, they tried to settle down, but Missouri had been a battleground and the legal restrictions on ex-Confederate soldiers made it difficult to obtain loans. Frustrated and missing the excitement of war, the men formed a gang composed of friends and relatives, and began robbing banks in February 1866. A disastrous raid in Northfield, Minnesota on September 7, 1876 destroyed most of the gang, and only the James brothers escaped. By this time, the outlaws, especially Jesse, were famous. Unable to retire to a normal life, Jesse raised a new gang and continued to rob trains until he was killed by recent recruits Bob and Charley Ford, who were seeking the large reward for his life, on April 3, 1882. Read More…

Apr 012013
 
Abraham Lincoln

Born in a log cabin, Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809-April 15, 1865) taught himself enough law to become a lawyer. An ambitious man, he was elected repeatedly to the Illinois state legislature, where he became a leader of the Whig party. After a single term in Congress (1846-1848), Lincoln’s political career seemed to have peaked. As the debate over slavery tore apart the nation in the 1850s, the Whigs appeared increasingly irrelevant, so Lincoln joined the newly formed Republican party. Although he lost a hard-fought campaign against Democrat candidate Stephen Douglas for a senate seat in 1858, a series of debates between the two men had attracted national attention, especially among the growing abolitionist movement. Chosen as a compromise candidate during the 1860 Republican convention, Lincoln won election as president, aided by the breakup of the Democrat party over slavery. Convinced that he intended to destroy their way of life, the southern states seceded, starting a long and bitter civil war (1861-1865). When Lincoln decided to emancipate the slaves, it seemed likely that he would lose the 1864 election, but several victories on the battlefield ensured that he was given a second term with a sizeable majority. Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated shortly after the war ended. Read More…

Mar 212013
 
Major Dundee

Rating: ★★★½☆
Near the end of the American Civil War, the commander of a Union prison recruits a mix of civilians, Confederate prisoners and Union troops to hunt down a band of Apache, pursuing them into Mexico, which was occupied by a French army struggling to place an Austrian prince on the throne. As the search extends into weeks and then months, the men gradually shed all traces of civilization.
Described as Moby Dick on horseback, the film became famous for director Sam Peckinpah’s mix of self-destructive behavior and brilliance. Clashing with the executives who ran the studio, the film was taken away from Peckinpah in the editing stage and a drastically shorter version was released, which was ridiculed by critics and ignored by movie-goers. Although no one knew it at the time, it was a dress rehearsal for The Wild Bunch, but it is still an impressive accomplishment on its own. Major Dundee is one of those movies where a film of the behind-the-scenes action would probably be as interesting as the final result. A restored version, based on a cut made by producer Jerry Bresler, was made in 2005, which provides a more coherent story, while revealing the movie’s flaws. Despite the flaws, it bursts with passion and brilliance. Read More…

Feb 212013
 
Lincoln

Rating: ★★★★☆
Balancing the conflicting needs of the radical and conservative factions of the Republican Party, President Abraham Lincoln struggles to convince enough Democrats to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment, which will abolish slavery. The war is almost over, so Lincoln must deal with Confederate negotiators, who hope to win peace and keep slavery, aware that the North is weary of war. Determined to see that the Thirteenth Amendment passes, Lincoln insists that all means short of the exchange of money be employed to persuade Democrats to vote for the amendment. The film is a stunning recreation of the real Lincoln’s world. While this is not the definitive movie about the long road to freedom for blacks in the United States, it is the definitive movie about Abraham Lincoln.
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Nov 242012
 
William Quantrill

Born in Ohio, William Clarke Quantrill (July 31, 1837-June 6, 1865) failed as a school teacher, and drifted into Lawrence, Kansas, a pro-abolitionist center. Since he rode with both the abolitionist Jayhawkers and the pro-slavery Border Ruffians, while claiming to be spying on the other side, neither side fully trusted him. After betraying five idealistic abolitionists on a raid to liberate slaves in Missouri he became a hero but barely escaped a lynching in Lawrence. The American Civil War (1865-1865) started soon after and Missouri came under Union control, so Quantrill became a guerrilla, and was leading his own guerrilla band by late December 1861, attracting numerous recruits including Cole Younger and Frank and Jesse James. Although he was the alpha guerrilla in Missouri during 1862, the men had divided into smaller bands led by his former lieutenants George Todd, Dave Pool, Bill Anderson and Younger by the spring of 1863. The accidental death of several female relatives of guerrillas while in Union custody was used to persuade all of the guerrilla leaders to combine for a raid against Lawrence on August 21, 1863. The massacre of 185 unarmed men and boys triggered a massive manhunt by Union forces, so Quantrill led his remaining followers to Kentucky in search of easier pickings. However, Quantrill was captured on May 10, and he died in a Union hospital on June 6, 1865.
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Nov 082012
 
Copper: BBC America's grit-free look at New York City during the Civil War.

The nation is still at war, rich speculators profit on the war, and racial tensions are high. If only the show was as good as it sounds. Billed as a gritty look at the early days of law enforcement, the only grit in Copper is applied to the extras pretending to be beggars. While the low-budget production values associated with the BBC add to the charm of Doctor Who, the same can not be said for Copper. The over-crowded slums look empty, the boxers in the bare-knuckle boxing matches are sweaty but otherwise unbloodied, and the violence seems tame for a cable show. Read More…

Oct 252012
 
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Despite huge potential, the actual movie was astonishingly unimaginative. Bursting with countless elaborate and ridiculously expensive action scenes where humans routinely make death-defying acrobatics, the film numbs the mind into submission. To be honest, the number of missed opportunities is simply depressing. Read More…

Oct 182012
 
Abraham Lincoln

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Adopting an episodic approach to the life of Abraham Lincoln, the movie turns a shrewd, intelligent man into a saint-like figure, who leads the government to win a war and free the slaves, without actually showing any black people, presumably to avoid offending white audiences in the south. Made in a different era, when actors and directors had not fully adjusted to the switch from silent movies to sound, the film is honestly hard to watch. Infamous for the racist Birth of a Nation (1915), where the Klu Klux Klan save the South from an alliance of blacks and northern whites, director D.W. Griffith hoped that Abraham Lincoln would salvage his reputation and his career. It did neither. Read More…

Sep 202012
 
The Tall Target

Rating: ★★★★☆
Combining a great mystery with superb historical accuracy, The Tall Target (1951) uses the Baltimore Plot, a suspected conspiracy to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln during a stop in Baltimore, to illustrate the tension in the United States as the nation found itself on the verge of civil war. Read More…

Aug 232012
 
Copper Trailer

I was genuinely excited when I heard that Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, the creators of the ground-breaking Homicide: Life on the Street, had a new show about an Irish-American detective in New York City near the end of the Civil War. While the story of a tough, handsome copper who battles corrupt superiors and wealthy businessmen with the help of a kind-hearted prostitute is not the most original idea, it looks like the writers did their research. Set in the aftermath of the Draft Riots, when working-class white men angered that they would be drafted into the army killed more than a hundred blacks, the black community is moving away to Brooklyn, thus showing that emancipation was far from universally popular. Read More…

Mar 142012
 
Kansas Raiders

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Silly, inaccurate and boring, weighed down by plodding direction and lame dialogue, Kansas Raiders (1950), a movie about Jesse James riding with William Quantrill during the American Civil War, is just bad, one of those movies that you simply want to end. Read More…

Jun 062009
 
Dark Command

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
While Dark Command is entertaining and surprisingly dark for 1940, it completely airbrushes the savagery that made the fighting in the Missouri-Kansas region a particularly brutal part of the Civil War. Along with Santa Fe Trail, which was made the same year and also deals with Bleeding Kansas, the film attempts to paper over the deep divisions that had caused the Civil War in an effort to unite northerners and southerners as the United States seemed increasingly likely to enter WWII. Read More…