Friday, December 19, 2014
Below are images from "PATRIOT GAMES", the 1992 adaptation of Tom Clancy's 1987 novel. Directed by Phillip Noyce, the movie starred Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan:
"PATRIOT GAMES" (1992) Photo Gallery
Thursday, December 18, 2014
"RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD" (1994) Review
Many television viewers and moviegoers might be surprised to learn that Hollywood had aired a good number of television movies that featured the topic of U.S. slavery. One of those movies proved to be an offshoot of the 1977 miniseries, "ROOTS". However, another was the 1994 television movie called "RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD".
The 1994 television movie is a story about the Underground Railroad, a loose network of secret routes and safe houses occasionally used by willing 19th-century slaves in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with occasional aid of abolitionists and allies sympathetic to their cause. Before one assumes this movie is about the history of the actual network . . . it is not. Instead, "RACE TO FREEDOM" told the story of four fugitive slaves from North Carolina, who made the journey north to freedom during the fall of 1850. Since their journey took place not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850, the four fugitives were forced to journey to Canada, instead of a Northern state above the Mason-Dixon Line.
The story began with two events - the capture of a slave named Joe, who is owned by a North Carolina planter named Colonel Fairling; and the arrival of a guest of Farley's, a Canadian ornithologist (studies birds) named Dr. Alexander Ross. Fairling is an amateur bird watcher who had invited Ross to observe the migration of certain bird in the area. Unbeknownst to the planter, Dr. Ross is also an abolitionist and newly-recruited member of the Underground Railroad. He has also arrived at the Fairling plantation to offer help to any slaves willing to escape. In the end, four slaves take up his offer - a blacksmith named Thomas; two field slaves named Minnie and Walter; and a house slave named Sarah, who is also Thomas' love and Joe's younger sister. After his men's failure to capture the four runaways, Fairling hires a professional slave catcher named Wort and his slave/tracker Solomon to find and capture them.
Unlike some people, I believe that stories (in novels, movies, television, stage plays) about slavery (in any country) can be told in a variety of ways - as a family saga, a historical biopic, or even as a comedy satire on the sanctity of American history. "RACE TO FREEDOM" turned out to be an adventure tale in the form of a road trip, with history, action and romance for good measure. It is not the first movie about the Underground Railroad I have seen. But it is one of my two favorite productions on the topic.
One of the reasons why "RACE TO FREEDOM" became such a favorite with me is that . . . well, screenwriters Peter Mohan and Nancy Trites-Botkin created a first-rate, solid screenplay. The pair did an excellent job of setting up the narrative with the two events mentioned - Joe's capture and Dr. Ross' arrival at the Farley plantation. The screenplay also allowed viewers to become acquainted with the movie's four protagonists, as they debate over whether or not to make the bid for freedom. It did the same for the two antagonists - the slave catching duo of Wort and Solomon. Mohan and Trites-Botkin's screenplay also did a solid job of presenting obstacles for the protagonists to overcome, as they made their way north from western North Carolina to Canada. And the screenplay also presented a northbound route that did not come off as implausible. I still shake my head in disbelief over the California-bound route that author George MacDonald Fraser plotted in one of his FLASHMAN novels. But more importantly, "RACE TO FREEDOM" proved to be a first-rate adventure filled with a well-written narrative, solid action, strong characterization, nail-biting suspense, a strong, if not perfect, grasp of history, and a surprising twist in the end.
As I had earlier stated, "RACE TO FREEDOM" featured some strong characterizations. And this would not have been possible without a first-rate cast. The movie included some solid performances from Falconer Abraham, Jennifer Phipps, Peter Boretski and James Blendick. Dawnn Lewis gave a funny and sardonic performance as the pragmatic Minnie. Also, Tim Reid, Nigel Bennett and Alfre Woodward all made solid cameo appearances as abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Levi Coffin, and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. However, in my opinion, the movie featured five performances that really impressed me. Both Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance gave superb and subtle performances as the two of the four slaves who attempt the journey for freedom. Not only was I impressed by how they conveyed the complex aspects of their respective personalities, I was also impressed by their strong, screen chemistry. Michael Riley gave a very interesting performance as the Canadian ornithologist, Dr. Alexander Ross, who heart seemed to be in the right place, despite his obvious lack of experience with the Underground Railroad. I especially enjoyed his interactions with Vance's character, Thomas. However, I feel that the two most interesting performances in the movie came from Glynn Turman and Ron White, who portrayed the two slave catchers, Solomon and Wort. The two actors did a superb job in conveying one of the most interesting and complex slave/master relationship I have ever seen on screen. Turman and White really made it easy for me to understand how emotionally complex that relationship can be.
There is a lot to admire about "RACE TO FREEDOM". However, I did managed to spot certain aspects that I found questionable. The performances of the actors who portrayed Colonel Fairling's neighbors struck me as wooden and bad clichés of the typical Southern planter found in antebellum South movie and television productions of the last forty years. Two, actor Tim Reid was too old to be portraying abolitionist Frederick Douglass at the time. I guess I should not be surprised. "RACE TO FREEDOM" marked the third time this has happened. Reid was almost fifty when this movie was in production. And the abolitionist was 32 years old during the movie's setting of 1850. Finally, although I found Alfre Woodward's portrayal of Harriet Tubman rather entertaining, I found myself wondering why the historical figure was in this movie. Tubman usually operated as an Underground Railroad conductor between the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Canada - which meant she never went anywhere near Cinncinati, Ohio. Yet, this movie had her escorting runaways from Cinncinati. Worse, Trites-Botkin's screenplay strongly hinted that Tubman was a veteran conductor for the Underground Railroad. This is not true. Tubman had ran away from Maryland in December 1849. She did not begin her activities as a conductor until the late fall or early spring of 1850. During this movie's time setting, she was as much of a newbie as Dr. Ross.
"RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD" may not be easy to find. The television movie first aired on a cable network (unbeknownst to me) some twenty years ago. And I would have never found out about it, if it were not for the channel guide I had received from my cable company on a weekly basis. And thank goodness I managed to stumble across it. The production became one of my all time movies - television or otherwise - about U.S. slavery. If you can find it in a store, on Netflix or even on the Internet, I highly suggest that you watch it.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
"LOST" RETROSPECT: (3.13) "THE MAN FROM TALLAHASSEE"
Aside from one episode, I have no real love for the first half "LOST" Season Three. Along with the second half of Season Two and the first half of Season Six, it is one of my least favorite periods during the series' six-year run. However . . . I did say "first half". Season Three began to redeem itself with the airing of the John Locke-centric episode called (3.13) "The Man From Tallahassee".
The episode picked up immediately where the previous one, (3.12) "Par Avion" left off. Oceanic 815 survivors John Locke, Kate Austen and Sayid Jarrah had decided to leave the survivors' camp to find the Others' main camp and rescue their fellow castaway, Dr. Jack Shephard. The trio eventually found Jack at the Others' camp at the end of "Par Avion'and were astounded to discover him playing a friendly game of touch football with his captors. While Locke and Sayid remained in a state of shock, Kate went into warrior mode and decided to shoot as many Others as possible in an attempt to free Jack. Due to the "brainwashing room" that she and James "Sawyer" Ford had discovered during their escape from the Others in (3.07) "Not in Portland", Kate believed that Jack had been brainwashed. Both Locke and Sayid managed to stop Kate before she could commence upon her bloody rescue plan. Locke advised that they wait until dark to rescue Jack. While Kate and Sayid attempted to rescue Jack, Locke decided to embark upon his own agenda regarding the Others' submarine he had learned about from Other Mikhail Bakunin in (3.11) "Enter 77".
Since this episode is Locke-centric, the flashbacks featured turning points in Locke's relationships with girlfriend Helen Norwood and his con artist father, Anthony Cooper. The flashbacks revealed how Locke tried to put his obsession over his father behind him and focus upon solidifying his relationship with Helen. But his goals failed when a young (Patrick J. Adams of "SUITS") named Peter Talbot sought Locke's help in breaking up his mother's upcoming wedding to Cooper. However, Locke's re-entry into his father's life resulted in tragedy for young Peter and himself.
"The Man From Tallahassee" not only marked the beginning of better writing for Season Three, I believe it proved to be one of the season's best episodes. Screenwriters Drew Goddard and Jeff Pinkner did an excellent job of utilizing a certain aspect of John Locke's personality that drove forward the narratives for both the island's present story line and Locke's back story. Audiences have seen how Locke's obsession with Anthony Cooper in episodes like (1.19) "Deux Ex Machina", (2.03) "Orientation" and (2.17) "Lockdown" led to a good deal of misery in his life, previous to the Oceanic 815 crash. Ever since the plane crash, Locke had directed this obsessive trait toward the island and its "secrets". His obsession reached a higher level in "The Man From Tallahassee". The past John Locke finally seemed intent upon staying out of his father's life. But one visit from Cooper's future son-in-law left Locke determined to re-enter Cooper's life and save Peter's mother from falling into the con man's clutches. Locke's obsession with the island and his discovery of the Others' submarine in "Enter 77" led him to abandon the plan to rescue Jack and change his agenda. His actions not only led to a cat-and-mouse game with the Others' leader, Ben Linus, but also soured his relationship with Jack and Sayid even further.
This episode not only continued the series' exploration of Locke's obsessive nature, but also a trait of his that I have always found disturbing - namely his penchant for enforcing his will upon others. Audiences have seen this trait in past episodes such as (1.13) "Hearts and Minds" and (2.16) "The Whole Truth". When I first saw "The Man From Tallahassee", I wondered why Locke had bothered to destroy the Others' submarine with the C-4 explosives he had pinched from Mikhail. The episode never fully explained Locke's actions in so many words. But I eventually began to suspect that Locke did not want anyone leaving the island - whether that person be an Oceanic 815 survivor or a member of the Others. Again, this is merely speculation on my part. However, a part of me also suspect that Locke believes the island is the best solution for everyone's troubles. After all, it had healed his legs and led him to a renewed interest in life after so many failures. But the thing is . . . Locke's faith in the island was based upon what it did to his legs. He never really had an idea what the island was about, why the Others were determined to protect it from outsiders or whether it was the right solution for every soul that inhabited it.
Locke's destruction of the Others' submarine ruined Jack Shephard's chances of leaving the island. Some time between(2.09) "Stranger in a Strange Land" and this episode, Jack made a deal with Ben Linus to leave the island on the subm. Would Ben have kept his deal and allow Jack to leave? Many fans would say "no". Personally, I have no idea. Benjamin Linus could be a controlling liar in order to serve his goals. Yet . . . he kept his promise to Oceanic 815 survivor Michael Dawson and allowed the latter and son Walt Lloyd to leave the island in the Season Two finale, (2.24) "Live Together, Die Alone - Part II". So . . . who knows? The submarine's destruction achieved something else. I suspect that Locke's action led Ben and the island's resident immortal, Richard Alpert, to introduce the castaway to the island's latest newcomer, Anthony Cooper. When I first saw this episode, I had assumed that Cooper was simply a tool Ben was using to push Locke's emotional buttons. Now, I know better. Cooper's presence was basically a test for Ben and Richard to see whether Locke was worthy of becoming an Other. Speaking of Anthony Cooper, "The Man From Tallahassee" also revealed how Locke ended in a wheelchair before his fateful flight aboard Oceanic 815. I have to be honest. I never saw it coming when I first saw this episode. For two seasons, viewers like myself wondered how John Locke became physically handicapped. Although I had had been aware of Cooper since "Deux Ex Machine", I never thought he would end up being responsible for Locke ending up in a wheelchair. During my first viewing of this episode, I had practically gasped aloud when I saw the con artist shove his son out of that window.
The operation to rescue Jack not only ended in failure - at least from Kate and Sayid's point-of-views - but also sidetracked the latter's character. Sayid really had nothing to do in this episode but suffer as a prisoner of the Others. On the other hand, this episode also featured Jack and Kate's reunion after the latter's escape from Hydra Island with Sawyer in (3.06) "I Do" and "Not in Portland". And man . . . did it turn out to be memorable. Many fans of "LOST" have never viewed the Jack/Kate relationship as particularly sexy or passionate. Although I had originally shared their feelings, I also believed that Jack and Kate's relationship was more than simply about sex and passion. However . . . sex and passion certainly had a strong impact upon their reunion in "The Man From Tallahassee". And the ironic thing is that the meeting of lips or the exchange of bodily fluids were not involved. . . . only heated words and hand play.
The "Man From Tallahassee" featured some very fine acting from the cast. Only two cast members did not benefit from this episode. As I had earlier pointed out, Naveen Andrews, who portrayed Sayid Jarrah, spent most of the episode either looking shocked, annoyed and frustrated. Elizabeth Mitchell's Dr. Juliet Burke did very little in this episode, as well. The episode featured a sly performance from M.C. Gainey as Others member Tom Friendly. It also featured an earnest performance from guest star Patrick J. Adams. Kevin Tighe continued his excellent portrayal of Locke's treacherous father, Anthony Cooper. And Michael Emerson was also excellent as the Others' leader, Ben Linus. Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lilly knocked it out of the ballpark, while portraying the passionate regard both Jack Shephard and Kate Austen held for each other. But this episode belonged to Terry O'Quinn, who gave a brilliant performance as the always complex John Locke. O'Quinn took Locke's characterization all over the place - from emotionally needy to ruthlessly determined - and still managed to keep his performance in control. It is not surprising that O'Quinn won his Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his performance in this episode.
Ironically, I have never considered "The Man From Tallahassee" as one of my top ten favorite "LOST" episodes. Locke's tale in this episode has always struck me as slightly depressing. But I cannot help but regard it as one of the best episodes from Season Three . . . and one of the best that the series had to offer.