Iceman: A Harrowing Glimpse at Human Prehistory

A Neolithic revenge story seeks to explain the mysterious man found frozen in the Alps.

Written and directed by Felix Randau, and originally release in Germany in 2017 as Der Mann aus dem Eis, Iceman purports to tell the story of a Copper Age man preserved in the frozen Alps for 5,000 years. Beautiful landscapes and harrowing authenticity help balance what might otherwise be a one-dimensional revenge plot.

Kelab (Jürgen Vogel), Kisis (Susanne Wuest), and their clan are living in the Ötztal Alps around 3000 BC, where Kelab protects a fetish called Tineka. The clan is blessed with the birth of a child, but grieved by the loss of its mother. When Kelab is off hunting in the woods, a trio of raiders attack his village, slaughter its inhabitants, and steal their idol. Filled with a desire for revenge, Kelab rescues the newborn and pursues the raiders.

Along the way, Kelab interacts with other Neolithic people, including an old man, Ditob (Franco Nero), and his daughter Mitar (Violetta Schurawlow), in their sparsely populated valley. Can Kelab survive the harsh elements to exact revenge and take back his sacred Tineka?

Iceman was inspired by Ötzi the Iceman. In 1991, Alpine hikers discovered a mummified body partially frozen in ice. Shockingly, scientists dated its age to somewhere between 3400 and 3100 BC. The adult male was so well preserved that scientists were able to determine precisely what he ate in the days before he died. Most intriguingly, they discovered his cause of death was an arrow impaled in his back, compounded by other injuries.

Continue reading “Iceman: A Harrowing Glimpse at Human Prehistory”
Advertisements

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?

Continue reading “Class of ’61: Disappointing and Forgettable Historical Drama”

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.

Continue reading “Why I Won’t be Watching The Rise of Skywalker”

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.

Continue reading “The Highwaymen”

Was Bonnie Parker a Cold-Blooded Killer?

The Highwaymen’s portrayal of outlaw Bonnie Parker is more dime novel fantasy than reality.

In Netflix’s new historical film The Highwaymen (2019), Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson play ex-Texas Rangers Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, the two men responsible for taking down outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in May 1934. The famous outlaw couple don’t get a lot of screen time, but when they do, expect blood and bullets to fly.

In The Highwaymen, 24-year-old Bonnie Parker is portrayed as every bit as dangerous as her male companions, firing a Thompson submachine gun to cover a prison farm escape and coldly finishing off a wounded patrolman. But this portrayal is more in line with the sensational dime novels and films of yesteryear than reality.

Bonnie was born in Rowena, Texas in 1910 and grew up west of Dallas. She dropped out of high school and married a man named Roy Thornton just shy of her 16th birthday. Her husband was frequently in trouble with the law, and she moved back in with her mother and worked as a waitress. That’s when she met Clyde Barrow.

Continue reading “Was Bonnie Parker a Cold-Blooded Killer?”

Did Texas Have a Female Governor in 1934?

Netflix’s new film about the lawmen who took down Bonnie & Clyde has some historic surprises.

It may not be well-known outside the Lone Star State, but Texas was home to the second woman to be elected governor of a U.S. state (the first being Nellie Tayloe Ross in Wyoming, and only by a few days): Miriam Amanda Wallace “Ma” Ferguson.

In The Highwaymen (2019), Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson play ex-Texas Rangers Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, the two men responsible for taking down outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in May 1934. Kathy Bates plays a supporting role as Texas Governor Ma Ferguson, who disbanded the Texas Rangers and is portrayed as reluctantly sanctioning the manhunt.

Surely there wasn’t a female governor in the United States during 1930s, only a decade after women received the right to vote? There was!

Actually, Miriam A. Ferguson was first elected governor in 1924, after her husband, James Edward Ferguson, Jr., himself an ex-governor of Texas, was banned from holding public office after being convicted on corruption charges. “Ma” Ferguson ran as a surrogate for her husband, promising “Two governors for the price of one.”

Continue reading “Did Texas Have a Female Governor in 1934?”

The Little Hours – Medieval Misfire

An ensemble cast of talented comedians isn’t enough to save this poorly executed dark comedy lampooning scandalous behavior in the Catholic Church.

This isn’t the first time in history the Catholic Church has faced criticism for corruption and sexual impropriety, and The Little Hours (2017), written and directed by Jeff Baena, wants to remind us of that. Inspired by a fourteenth century Italian satire, this film’s poor quality and lackluster performances landed dead on arrival, missing an opportunity to successfully reboot a classic tale for contemporary audiences.

At an Italian convent run by Sister Maria (Molly Shannon), three young nuns, Alessandra (Alison Brie), Ginevra (Kate Micucci), and Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), are bored with their daily monotony and harass the elderly gardener into quitting. Meanwhile, Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman) discovers a servant named Massetto (Dave Franco) is having an affair with his wife. Massetto flees for his life, and runs into Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), who got drunk and lost the convent’s embroidery on his way to the market.

Eager for a friend, Father Tommasso convinces Massetto to return to the convent and work as their new gardener, where he will pretend to be a deaf-mute to avoid being harassed by the sisters. Things get complicated when Alessandra, Ginevra, and Fernanda all scheme for Massetto’s affection. Is Fernanda’s strange behavior just repressed desire bubbling to the surface, or is something more sinister afoot?

The Little Hours is based on stories from The Decameron (c.1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian Renaissance humanist. As English writer Geoffrey Chaucer did for his own country in The Canterbury Tales (c.1400), Decameron satirized life in the Late Medieval Italian states through a series of short stories told by various narrators. The Little Hours takes elements from Day Three, particularly stories one and two.

Continue reading “The Little Hours – Medieval Misfire”