Tag Archives: History Channel

Vikings charts risky new course for Season 2

'Vikings' returns for a second season tonight on History Channel.

The pregnancy of Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland, left) sorely tests the marriage of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) as Season 2 of ‘Vikings’ begins tonight on History Channel.

Vikings, which opens its second season tonight on History Channel, caught a lot of people (including me) off-guard when it premiered last year. Much as he had on The Tudors, series creator Michael Hirst took historical information (about 8th-century Scandinavia, in this case), including some real-life figures, and added liberal amounts of imagination, sex and soap-opera melodramatics to present an instantly addictive yarn about the adventures of visionary young warrior Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his countrymen.
Season 1 followed Ragnar and his warriors as they ventured westward in search of the rich plunder to be found on the shores of medieval Britain. By season’s end, Ragnar’s exploits had attracted the attention of his monarch, King Horik (Donal Logue), who dispatched Ragnar to settle a bitter land dispute with the leader of Gotaland (modern-day Sweden), Jarl Borg (Thorbjorn Harr).
The Season 1 finale of Vikings followed that mission, which did not go well when Horik stubbornly rebuffed Jarl Borg’s offer of a compromise. For all its brevity, however, that trip gave Jarl Borg a chance to drive a wedge between Ragnar and his devoted brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), and for the beautiful Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) to seduce Ragnar and conceive a son by him. Meanwhile, back in Ragnar’s home village, his stalwart wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) was left to battle a horrifying pestilence that decimated the population, including young Gyda, her daughter with Ragnar.
Tonight’s Season 2 premiere of Vikings opens with the inevitable outcome of the bitterness between Horik and Jarl Borg as the two leaders and their armies face off with Ragnar on one side and Rollo on the other. It turns out to be a fairly brief and pointless scene, which at least allows the focus to shift to the real meat of the episode: Ragnar’s homecoming.
Lagertha is predictably furious to learn that, while she was desperately trying to save their neighbors, Ragnar was off playing hide-the-Yggdrasil with Aslaug, but he placates her by vowing never to see the princess again. Aslaug, however, has a very different opinion on that subject, showing up heavily pregnant a few months later and putting Ragnar’s previously cozy domestic life to a serious test that culminates in a four-year time jump between episodes one and two.
History Channel very helpfully sent out the first four episodes of this new season, which finds many favorite characters taking new paths and confronting new personal epiphanies and, occasionally, some genuine horrors. While there definitely is a strong soap element in the narrative, there’s also a satisfying complexity to most characters that keeps them from being stereotypes. The principal “hero,” Ragnar, has some grievous blind spots when it comes to the people around him, and even Aslaug – who would be the Joan Collins character in a less interesting series – starts to develop some compassion and even sympathy.
With the time jump, Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games) takes over the role of Bjorn Lothbrok, Ragnar and Lagertha’s son, while the excellent Linus Roache (Law & Order) joins the cast as King Ecbert, the ruler of Wessex, England, who shares Ragnar’s visionary talents for looking outside the box. Fan favorites George Blagden (the former monk Athelstan) and Gustaf Skarsgard (the wily shipbuilder Floki) also return for this new season, along with Jessalyn Gilsig as the widow Siggy, who never met a pot she couldn’t stir.

Supersized ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ feels oddly smaller

Emile Hirsch, Holliday Grainger and Sarah Hyland star in 'Bonnie & Clyde.'

Emile Hirsch, Holliday Grainger and Sarah Hyland star in ‘Bonnie & Clyde,’ a two-part TV movie premiering tonight on three cable channels.

Bonnie & Clyde, the two-part, four-hour TV movie premiering simultaneously tonight and Monday on Lifetime, A&E Network and History Channel, covers many of the same events chronicled in Arthur Penn’s 1967 Bonnie and Clyde feature film, which earned 10 Oscar nods (including two trophies) for its electrifying depiction of the violent dual careers of gangster-lovers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Penn’s film confirmed the superstar status of its two leads, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, and also included fascinating supporting performances from Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons, Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard. More than four decades after its initial release, Bonnie and Clyde has lost none of its power, and if you’ve never seen it, by all means seek it out.
This new cable production, which casts Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) and Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) in the title roles, runs about an hour longer (not counting commercials) than Penn’s film, yet its objective, as well as its overall impact, feels much more modest. While Penn and his team told the story with all its doomed romantic aura intact, Bonnie & Clyde seeks to strip away most of the hype surrounding this true-crime saga to look at the real characters at the heart of it.
That’s certainly a valid approach, even a sensible one, since it would be nuts to try competing with Penn’s masterpiece on its own terms. Unfortunately, this Bonnie & Clyde simply doesn’t bring much new to the party.
It doesn’t help that the teleplay by John Rice and Joe Batteer, is fairly workmanlike, moving from event A to event B and so on as it makes its way to the carnage we know is coming eventually. For those who don’t, this TV movie opens on May 23, 1934, as a macabre mini-parade of police cars and a tow-truck rolls into rural Gibsland, La., bearing the bullet-riddled “murder car” that holds the sheet-covered corpses of Clyde, 25, and Bonnie, 24. At this point, the film, narrated by Hirsch’s Clyde, flashes back to his Texas childhood, when a near-fatal fever at age 9 left him – his grandmother would swear – with the gift of second sight.
That dubious bit of trivia might be worth a mention in passing, yet Rice and Batteer seem determined to make it a dramatic hook for their script. The young Clyde, still a boy, has a dreamy vision of the seductive adult Bonnie walking slowly towards him across a field and, while he and his older brother, Buck, are fleeing the scene of a petty larceny, Clyde is shocked by a brief flash of the bloody future fate awaiting his sibling. Premonitions like these keep recurring through the TV movie, and they’re never less than jarring.
At 28 and 25 respectively, Hirsch and Grainger are closer to the ages of their characters than were Beatty (30) and Dunaway (26), but they have to work harder to register with us. That they eventually manage to turn in praiseworthy turns is kind of remarkable, given that, even with its additional running time, this Bonnie & Clyde doesn’t seem to have a clear, convincing notion of who its characters were and why they did what they did.
Oh, the broad strokes are there. This account wants us to buy into the notion that Clyde was an easily manipulated, somewhat dim boy who kept wanting to go straight and settle down (those pesky premonitions, remember?), but Bonnie was so obsessively driven to seek fame and attention that she bought into their own press-driven myth and kept pushing Clyde to bigger and bigger crimes.
That’s certainly a way to go, I guess, but it’s not a theory that is very well supported by the historical record and, frankly, it seems more like the premise of … well … a Lifetime Original Movie.
Academy Award winners Holly Hunter (as Bonnie’s mom) and William Hurt (as a Texas Ranger who comes out of retirement to pursue the duo) make the most of their limited screen time and Sarah Hyland, best known as ditsy Haley Dunphy on Modern Family, has some very affecting moments as Clyde’s sister-in-law, Blanche (the role that won Parsons her Oscar).
Don’t get me wrong, with two-time Oscar nominee Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies) at the helm, this made-for-cable Bonnie & Clyde isn’t terrible by any means. But it just feels a little irrelevant up against Penn’s absolutely essential feature film, which, by the way, is scheduled to be available later this week in a budget-priced two-DVD special edition set from Amazon.com.
Holliday Grainger and Holly Hunter play daughter and mother in 'Bonnie & Clyde.'

Oscar winner Holly Hunter (right) plays Bonnie’s (Holliday Grainger) concerned mother, Emma Parker, in ‘Bonnie & Clyde.’

Enhance Halloween chills with ‘Haunted History’

Real-life events inspire spooky local legends in the two-disc "Haunted History" DVD set.

‘Haunted History’ is a new two-disc set from History Channel that revisits some horrific chapters from our country’s past.

If you’re looking for videos to help you get in the Halloween mood, consider Haunted History, a budget-friendly two-disc set released earlier this fall from Lionsgate Entertainment. This release contains eight episodes from the popular History Channel series documenting alleged paranormal activity connected with horrific real-life incidents around the United States.
First, a word or two about what Haunted History isn’t. This series and DVD release isn’t one of those spook-hunting shows where the camera follows a group of reputed ghostbusters as they explore some spooky environment and periodically shout at one another, “Wow, look over there! Did you see THAT?” while we viewers try to convince ourselves we’ve actually seen or heard anything out of the ordinary.
In fact, things that go bump in the night take a back seat to these documentary accounts of the actual events behind them, which are genuinely chilling, such as the Helter Skelter murders of Charles Manson and his “family,” or the horror stories that occurred in Pennsylvania’s Pennhurst Asylum.
Of the episodes I sampled, two stand out. The first, “Salem Witch Trials,” revisits the dark chapter in early American history that playwright Arthur Miller immortalized in his play The Crucible. Of special interest here is the story of Giles Corey, the Salem landowner who was crushed to death by heavy stones as punishment for not cooperating with the Salem court. That incident is included in Miller’s play, but the Haunted History episode also mentions the curse Corey placed before his death on anyone who held the local office of sheriff, as well as the town itself. Sure enough, the sheriff at the time of the trials and all his successors either died prematurely in office or were forced to leave the job due to grave medical reasons.
What I never had heard before, however, is that Corey’s apparition has become the Massachusetts community’s equivalent of the Mothman, the eerie West Virginia critter said to appear as a harbinger of some local disaster. Corey’s ghost reportedly has been encountered by witnesses right before major fires and other tragedies in Salem, and anyone to whom Corey’s specter actually speaks knows that his own days are numbered.
If the Salem episode is interesting, however, it’s “Murder Castle” that left me uneasy at bedtime. The episode chronicles the ghastly saga of one of America’s first major documented serial killers, H.H. Holmes. Born Herman Webster Mudgett in 1861, Holmes started his grisly hobby while a medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School, where he appears to have devoted himself to his studies expressly to become a more efficient killer.
In the months leading up to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, Holmes built a three-story, block-long “castle” (as the locals called it) to lure fair tourists to their doom. At the end of each week, he fired his construction crew and hired new workers so no one would have a comprehensive overview of the structure, which included shops, residential rooms and other, more disorienting spaces, including a basement, dedicated to hideous tortures and murder. On the record, Holmes was executed by hanging in 1896, at age 34, but the episode puts forth the theory that this monster and one of his several accomplices actually pulled off a cunning switch that allowed Holmes to escape to London. Not long after that, the Jack the Ripper murders broke out in the British capital, crimes in which, once again, the elusive killer exhibited keen surgical skills.
It’s truly creepy stuff, and definitely not the sort of thing most people will want to watch as the shadows around them are growing longer.
Dr. H.H. Holmes built a huge hotel in Chicago just to lure in prospective murder victims who were visiting the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

The recent DVD release “Haunted History” includes the horrifying saga of Dr. H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first documented serial killers.