Class of ’61: Disappointing and Forgettable Historical Drama

This made-for-TV drama meanders through the opening salvos of the American Civil War.

Written by Jonas McCord, directed by Gregory Hoblit, and produced by Steven Spielberg, Class of ’61 premiered on ABC in April 1993. This confusing drama follows members of the West Point class of 1861 and their families as they head off to join opposing sides of the war. It’s notable for an early appearance by Clive Owen, who is the only actor to stand out among the myriad of stock characters.

As the film opens, three friends, Shelby Peyton (Dan Futterman), George Armstrong Custer (Josh Lucas), and Devin O’Neil (Clive Owen), are attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. Tensions are high as Confederate troops fire on Fort Sumter, leaving cadets with divided loyalties. Shelby Peyton, a Virginian, decides to resign and head south to join the Confederacy, despite his engagement to O’Neil’s sister, Shannon (Sophie Ward).

Back home in Maryland, Devin O’Neil learns his brother Terry (Christien Anholt) has joined pro-Southern partisans, which upsets his pro-Union Irish family. Things get complicated when O’Neil is unable to secure a commission in the Union Army. He rooms with George Custer in Washington, DC, where he falls in love with Lily Magraw (Laura Linney), who also happens to be a Southern spy.

Things get even more complicated when Shelby Peyton returns to his plantation, where his favorite slave, Lucius (Andre Braugher), has killed two slave catchers in an escape attempt. He is forced to flee northward in the Underground Railroad, leaving his pregnant wife behind to an uncertain future. Will destiny reunite all these characters at the First Battle of Bull Run?

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Why I Won’t be Watching The Rise of Skywalker

The series is creatively bankrupt.

There’s an old saying that sums up how I feel about the Star Wars franchise. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” After The Last Jedi, what more does the series have to offer? Anything the new films have to offer, we’ve already seen it done better in the original trilogy.

I was a huge Star Wars fan in my teens. Return of the Jedi came out when I was a kid, but the trilogy was re-released as a boxed set in 1995. I watched those VHS tapes dozens of times. I read all the old novels (which Disney decided to retcon out of existence). I’m almost ashamed to say I still have a huge binder fill of cards from the Star Wars Card Game. (Leave a comment if you think those are worth anything?)

When The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, the year before I graduated high school, my friends and I were in the theater on opening day. Boy, was that a disappointment.

While maturity and the sheer awfulness of the prequel trilogy threw a wet blanket on my fandom, my hopes were raised when Disney took control of the franchise away from George Lucas. I watched The Force Awakens at a special screening while deployed to Iraq. It was… ok.

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Capri Italian Restaurant

Capri Italian Restaurant
Sign for Capri Italian Restaurant, 313 E. State Street, in downtown Rockford, Illinois. This white stucco building has a long family tradition imported from southern Italy. Vito Michele Grisanzio and his brother, Domenic, bought The Capri Restaurant in 1963 and Vito has worked there ever since. He’s now joined by his wife and their three grown sons. Don’t let this beat up old sign fool you – the food is great and the dining room is lovingly maintained.

One Last Time

One Last Time
Monument to Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr in Albany Rural Cemetery, on Cemetery Avenue off NY State Route 32, in Menands, Albany County, New York. Adolph von Steinwehr (1822-1877) was born in the Duchy of Brunswick, trained as a Prussian officer, and emigrated to America in 1847.

He raised a German-American regiment during the Civil War and rose to command a division in the Union XI Corps, Army of the Potomac. Unfortunately, his division bore the brunt of successful Confederate attacks at the Battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and he was later demoted to command of a brigade. After the war, he became a well-known and respected cartographer.

Battle Road at Minuteman National Park

Walk in the footsteps of British soldiers fleeing relentless attacks by colonial militia in this carefully-preserved National Park dedicated to the opening salvo of the Revolutionary War.

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The road from Concord to Boston, Massachusetts was the scene of heavy skirmishing on April 19, 1775 between British soldiers and American Colonial militia in the opening salvos of the Revolutionary War. The day had monumental significance in American history, as the Battles of Lexington and Concord represented the spark that led to the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States of America.

Early that fateful morning, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith and 700 British regulars departed Boston to capture and destroy Colonial militia supplies in Concord. The night before the raid, Paul Revere and Samuel Prescott departed from Boston to warn the militia of British plans. Paul Revere was captured along the Battle Road but later released. Later that morning, several hundred British soldiers arrived in Lexington and were met by approximately 70-77 militiamen. It’s unclear who fired the first shot, but when the smoke cleared, seven colonists lay dead and eight wounded.

The British continued to Concord, where they set fire to the supplies. At 9:30 am at North Bridge, 400 militiamen confronted 100 British regulars, resulting in approximately two militia killed and four wounded, and three British regulars killed and eight wounded. The engagement shocked both sides. His mission completed, Lt. Col. Smith and his men headed back to Boston. By then, the call had reverberated around Massachusetts and militiamen poured in from the countryside.

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Gus’s Diner in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Gus’s Diner, at 630 N. Westmount Drive in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, is filled with 1950s nostalgia. It has a wonderful stainless steel exterior and has been run by the current owners since 2008. It looks like a Silk City or Kullman model with expanded dining area, but is probably more modern (possibly a Paramount).

Diner Resources

The Highwaymen

A buddy cop tale with a historical twist, this nihilistic Netflix drama leans too heavily on worn-out cliches.

The story of the men who took down Bonnie and Clyde is recounted in The Highwaymen (2019), written by John Fusco and directed by John Lee Hancock. This bleak Netflix production aims to de-glamorize the infamous outlaw lovers with a more nuanced perspective, but still can’t help indulging in a few popular myths.

When Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert) mastermind a prison farm escape, Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) convinces Texas Governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) to bring ex-Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) out of retirement. Hamer agrees, and after purchasing a small arsenal of weapons, he reluctantly teams up with Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), another ex-Ranger past his prime.

Despite being “too old for this shit”, Hamer and Gault use experience and gut instinct to show up a team of FBI agents utilizing the latest law enforcement techniques, led by Agent Kendale (Jason Davis). After a string of false leads and narrow misses, the elderly lawmen finally gripe, complain, and manipulate their way into locating the outlaw gang. A young deputy named Ted Hinton (Thomas Mann), who grew up with Bonnie Parker, is there to provide dark irony and identify the criminals’ bullet-riddled bodies.

Channeling Neo-Westerns like No Country for Old Men (2007) and Wind River (2017), and to some extent the TV series True Detective, The Highwaymen focuses on a life-or-death pursuit through an unforgiving and bleak environment, with characters the modern world has left behind. Unfortunately, and despite its original contribution to the Bonnie and Clyde filmography, it comes across as an unimaginative imitation of these other works.

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