If anything, I was hoping that History Channel’s Vikings would do a lot to demystify the fascinating culture from the north, one that has been relegated to mere stereotypes and caricatures over the years when looking at their portrayals. The Norsemen are often seen as one-dimensional figures, who have a bloodthirsty craving for violence, rape, and pillaging, with their interactions between each other bordering on unintelligible muttering. Based on what this network has put out in recent years, I was expecting exactly that, only with a couple of horned helmets thrown into the mix. So far, though, after the first episode, I am quite impressed and happy with the overall look and feel of this coming ten-part series, which could expand into future seasons. It is not perfect, as nothing ever is, and there are a few cringe moments, but I actually found myself enjoying the first episode, and am anxious for the rest of the series. Below are some highlights and what stood out to me the most:
Some people were expecting the worst from National Geographic’s Killing Lincoln, for two reasons: Bill O’Reilly’s book of the same title was littered with inaccuracies, and the production team of Ridley and Tony Scott, along with director Adrian Moat, recently produced one of the most inept and historically insulting documentaries ever made, Gettysburg, back in 2011. Hosted and narrated by Tom Hanks, this is a docudrama which surpasses Gettysburg, distances itself slightly from the book, yet at the same time, does not adequately deliver the entertainment one would expect here, which I will address later. Billy Campbell, whose other Civil War-era film, Copperhead, is slated to be released in June, does a decent job as President Abraham Lincoln. It would be absolutely unfair to compare him to Daniel Day-Lewis, so on his own he is fine. The performance is very calm, quiet, and subdued and I have no problem with the voice he used, which is not accurately high-pitched, but also is not the typical Hollywood deep voice we have heard over the years. The production team used Campbell and his talents as best as they could. However, considering that this film is about killing Lincoln, and Lincoln dies just after the midway point, it did leave a lot to be desired.
War movies have had a bad habit over the years of putting extreme political views ahead of actually telling a story. Thankfully, we have a director like Kathryn Bigelow who can put the blinders on, and give us something refreshing, something that seems nearly impossible: a film about a modern war that is not top-heavy with political preaching and agendas. Zero Dark Thirty is not a great movie, and certainly not worth all the hype surrounding it. I would render a guess that if this film had a fictitious plot, or was about a manhunt of someone of a lesser caliber of evil, it would have been panned by critics before reaching a slightly positive edge. Unlike The Hurt Locker, this is not an action movie, nor is it a “war” movie in the strict sense, though I have loosely labeled it as such earlier, because it is difficult to find another moniker for it. This is a film that is effective in telling the story of the ten-year long hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It is nothing more, nothing less. There is hardly anything artistic about this film except the way it sticks to a narrative, almost documentary flow, jumping from person to person, event to event. While parts of it were entertaining (such as the final “kill” scene and all of its deliberately paced build-up), I must admit that the scope of this film was almost too big for its own good. Cramming ten years of information, facts, statistics, and repetitive location settings begins to make your head spin, though it never gets entirely too much to handle. Perhaps this would have worked better as a two or three part HBO mini-series.
Fans of In Search of… have been through a whirlwind of emotions over the years. First, there was the realization that the series would never get a release, the feelings of dejection after hundreds of letters and emails sent by fans to various companies were rejected without much explanation, then the happiness of a few months ago when it was announced that Visual Entertainment Inc. would be releasing the series, and finally, the puzzlement when Amazon pulled the product from their website for seemingly no reason at all just days before the big shipping date. Well, after all of that, the highly anticipated 21-disc box set of the hit paranormal/mystery documentary series that ran from 1976-1982, hosted and narrated by Leonard Nimoy, finally started to ship out last week, and like many fans, I got mine for Christmas. I did not know what to expect from V.E.I since I had never purchased a product of theirs and am always skeptical of these companies that mass-produce DVDs of old television shows. More often than not, releases are nothing but a rush-job capitalizing on the wants of die-hard fans, without paying much attention to detail or quality. Thankfully, though, due to a release of this magnitude, V.E.I stepped up to the plate with a very pleasing In Search Of… box set.
I had not seen a new Mel Gibson film since he went off the deep end a few years ago, but because I was such a big fan of his, I could not pass up the $7.50 Blu-Ray offer at Wal-Mart for his latest flick, the action-packed Get the Gringo. Very rarely do I buy movies that I have never seen, but this was well worth the risk as I found myself enjoying it from start to finish. Before I get into a summary of the film, let’s just say that this seemed like an 80′s action movie, meaning it was completely unrealistic in premise, yet entertaining as all hell. If I had to make a comparison, I would say it was like Payback meets Lethal Weapon meets Taken, considering the different plot twists and level of violence present. It is hard to believe this was a straight-to-video release in the United States, given the extremely high production value and $20 million budget that had the special effects of a present-day Hollywood blockbuster. The fact that this movie is so little-known and un-advertised is proof positive at how far down Mel Gibson’s career has fallen due to his outbursts and tirades over the years. Had he been in good standing with Hollywood, and had production companies and distributors not been afraid to touch any of his products, this would have easily been smash hit, no doubt pulling in at least $100 million. But alas, here we are, and even all these years later, Gibson’s penance in staying away from roles has not been enough. Say what you want about him, though, this was him at his action-thriller finest, bringing back the good old days when he was on top of the world.
Where do I begin? This was a film that I had so many expectations for, and most of them were met. Before I get into this review, I want to say right off the bat that I think this film might be very difficult for anyone other than a history or Civil War buff to truly enjoy. Not to say that this is a dull film, because it is not, and is filled with complexity and enlivening dialogue, but as an actor once told me when it comes to Civil War films, “One bearded guy giving a speech to a bunch of bearded guys in one scene looks exactly the same to the general public as another bearded guy giving a speech to a bunch of bearded guys in the next one.” I feel that it would be unfair to use that quote to classify exactly what Lincoln is, but due to the fact that this film is entirely dialogue-driven, and lasts nearly two hours and a half, it might be a bit tough for some people to get through.
I have known actor and filmmaker Ed Mantell for a few years, and he is always good for a story or two. After working on so many Civil War related documentaries and features (and many other genres as well), it is safe to say that his insight has helped me understand the film-making process a lot more clearly than when I started blogging three years ago. Ed was recently involved with Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, as a background talent appearing in numerous scenes (quite prominently in one set in the “war room”, where he noted that he face was actually visible for five seconds), and attended the premiere in Richmond, Virginia this past week. Ed was kind enough to share his review of the film with us:
Don’t you just love this time of year? For some it’s the coming of cool fall air, for others, its the wonderful foliage, but for many, it’s time to crack out the horror flicks and watch as many as you can in the month of October! For me, the mainstays have always been The Shining, The Exorcist series, and The Omen trilogy, but this year, since Comcast OnDemand has expanded their collection of
crap moderately decent films, I will be broadening my horizons. Most of them are campy, cheesy, see-it-once garbage piles (you know, the ones that are so bad they’re actually worth watching), but every once in a while, a real gem will slip through. Take yesterday, for instance. I decided to watch two movies in a row (something I have not had the time for in quite a while), one of which was The Crater Lake Monster from 1977, a film that appears to seriously have had a budget of under $1000. Nevertheless, it was not the worst thing I had ever seen, and the scenery of the lake and forest was actually quite spectacular—the acting, which truly was scary, is what eventually brought it down, as even the special effects dealing with the monster in question were not too horrendous.
You just never know who may be reading through your blog, and in the past, we have had such a wide array of people become regular comment-posters here, one of which is Brad Clark, a Civil War buff from Iowa who decided to take his interest and enthusiasm to another level, by making a documentary film about the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. As Brad wanted me to point out, this is not a documentary about the battle itself, though there are plenty of details given early on, but rather the event that commemorated one of the war’s bloodiest battles. As for taking this program as an educational video, Brad notes, “This was not intended to be a History Channel episode presenting a detailed history lesson on the battle. They can do that better than I can.” Well, given the talent present in the making of this video, which will hopefully be the first of many presentations from his film company, Open Eyes Media, perhaps the ever-floundering channel he mentioned can’t. What we have here is a mammoth, two-disc feature running nearly three hours in length that perfectly captures the spirited essence of this reenactment and all those who took part. As someone who has been to many small reenactments, but only one big one (the 138th at Gettysburg), it was a pleasure to watch something so in-depth on something that was so grand of a scale. As was mentioned, there were more than 8,000 reenactors and 140 cannon present, the largest force assembled in Shiloh since the battle itself. More than 23,000 spectators also came by to watch the festivities during that overcast weekend in April.
Being a connoisseur of all things conspiracy, mainly anything having to do with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I was shocked that I had not heard of the film Executive Action until about five minutes before I watched it earlier this evening. Wanting to pass the time, I decided to give it a go, assuming it would probably go along the lines of The Parallax View, which came out a year later and depicted the assassination of a United States senator at the hands of a multinational corporation, with many similarities between that and the JFK assassination. However, what we have here is an actual telling of a conspiracy to kill the president, one that the opening credits notes is fictitious, but whose speculation is based in fact. The truth is, this is a 1970′s version of Oliver Stone’s JFK, as it expertly combines actual footage of Kennedy, Oswald, and other various people and events throughout the story, both through color and black-and-white photography. The end result is not as stunning as Stone’s work, but it is, perhaps, even more plausible.