The UNDERGROUND RAILROAD in Television

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Recently, the WGN Network began airing a new series about a group of Georgia slaves who plan and conduct a daring 600 miles escape to freedom in the Northern states called “UNDERGROUND”. However, it is not the first television production about American slaves making a bid for freedom. Below is a list of previous productions that I have seen over the years:

 

 

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD IN TELEVISION

“A WOMAN CALLED MOSES” (1978) – Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries adaptation of Marcy Heidish’s 1974 novel about the life of escaped slave-turned Underground Railroad conductor/activist Harriet Tubman during the years before the Civil War. The miniseries’ first half focused on Tubman’s years as a Maryland slave and her escape to freedom in December 1849. The second half focused on her years as a conductor with the Underground Railroad. Paul Wendkos directed.

 

 

“THE LIBERATORS” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott portrayed Virginia-born abolitionist John Fairfield and Bill, the escaped slave of the former’s uncle; who become conductors for the Underground Railroad. After the former helps the latter escape from Virginia, the pair reunite nearly a year later to rescue the relatives of African-American freedmen living in the North. Kenneth Johnson directed.

 

 

“RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD” (1994) – Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred in this cable television movie about a group of slaves who risk their lives to escape from their master’s North Carolina plantation to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Look for the surprise twist at the end. The movie co-starred Glynn Turman, Dawnn Lewis, Michael Riley, Falconer Abraham, and Ron White. Don McBrearty directed.

 

 

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“THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING” (1995) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about an early 19th century farmer in North Carolina, who finds himself helping a runaway slave, while on his way home from the market. Co-starring Larry Drake and Sam Waterston, the movie was directed by John Duigan.

 

 

“CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY” (1996) – Lou Gossett Jr. and Kate Nelligan portrayed a Canadian mixed race couple who sought a husband for their only daughter, Mary. The latter ends up marrying a Northern American. Upon their arrival in the United States, he sells her to a Virginian slave dealer and she ends up as a slave in that slave. After Mary manages to send word to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mink set out for Virginia to organize a rescue of their daughter with the help of the Underground Railroad. Bruce Pittman directed.

 

 

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Four of the productions on this list – “A WOMAN CALLED MOSES”, “RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD”, “THE JOURNEY OF AUGUST KING”, and “CAPTIVE HEART: THE JAMES MINK STORY” can be found on DVD. Only “THE LIBERATORS” has not been released on DVD. In fact, I do not know if it has ever been released on VHS.

 

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Ten Favorite SOUTHERN GOTHIC Movies

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Below is a list of my favorite movies with the theme of Southern Gothic:

 

TEN FAVORITE SOUTHERN GOTHIC MOVIES

1 - Written on the Wind

1. “Written on the Wind” (1956) – Douglas Sirk directed this lush adaptation of Robert Wilder’s 1945 novel about the damaging effects of a self-indulgent Texas family whose wealth stems from oil. The movie starred Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Oscar winner Dorothy Malone.

 

2 - The Beguiled

2. “The Beguiled” (1971) – Clint Eastwood starred in this surprisingly effective adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel about a Union soldier’s stay at a girl’s school in 1863 Mississippi. Directed by Don Siegel, the movie co-starred Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman.

 

3 - Eves Bayou

3. “Eve’s Bayou” (1997) – Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Debbie Morgan starred in this excellent tale about the affects of a Louisiana doctor’s extramarital affairs upon his family. The movie was written and directed by Kasi Lemmons.

 

4 - The Long Hot Summer 1985

4. “The Long Hot Summer” (1985) – Don Johnson and Judith Ivey starred in this excellent television remake of the 1958 film about an ambitious drifter’s experiences with a wealthy Mississippi family. Stuart Cooper directed this two-part television movie.

 

5 - Interview With a Vampire

5. “Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (1994) – Neil Jordan directed this excellent adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel about a former Louisiana planter-turned-vampire, who recalls his past history with a young reporter. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt starred.

 

6 - Heavens Prisoners

6. “Heaven’s Prisoners” (1996) – Alec Baldwin starred in this interesting adaptation of James Lee Burke’s 1988 novel about a former New Orleans detective, who investigates the circumstances behind a mysterious plane crash. Directed by Phil Joanou, the movie co-starred Kelly Lynch, Eric Roberts, Teri Hatcher and Mary Stuart Masterson.

 

7 - The Story of Temple Drake

7. “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933) – Miriam Hopkins starred in this controversial adaptation of William Faulkner’s 1931 novel, “Sanctuary”; which told the story of a young Southern socialite who falls into the hands of a brutal gangster. Stephen Roberts directed.

 

8 - The Skeleton Key

8. “The Skeleton Key” (2005) – Kate Hudson starred in this atmospheric thriller about a New Orleans hospice, who becomes entangled in a mystery surrounding an old Louisiana plantation manor and Hoodoo rituals. Directed by Iain Sofley, the movie co-starred Gena Rowland, Peter Sarsgaard and John Hurt.

 

9 - One False Move

9. “One False Move” (1992) – Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton starred in this fascinating crime thriller about a Arkansas sheriff anticipating the arrival of three violent drug dealers. Directed by Carl Franklin, the movie co-starred Cynda Williams and Michael Beach.

 

10 - The Long Hot Summer 1958

10. “The Long Hot Summer” (1958) – Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward starred in this original adaptation of three William Faulkner novellas about the experiences of an ambitious drifter with a wealthy Mississippi family. The movie was directed by Martin Ritt.

List of Favorite Movies and Television Miniseries About Slavery

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With the recent releases of Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “LINCOLN” and Quentin Tarrantino’s latest film, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, I found myself thinking about movies I have seen about slavery – especially slavery practiced in the United States. Below is a list of my favorite movies on the subject in chronological order: 

 

LIST OF FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION MINISERIES ABOUT SLAVERY

13-Skin Game

“Skin Game” (1971) – James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr. co-starred in this unusual comedy about two antebellum drifter who pull the “skin game” – a con that involves one of them selling the other as a slave for money before the pair can escape and pull the same con in another town. Paul Bogart directed.

 

9-Mandingo

“Mandingo” (1975) – Reviled by many critics as melodramatic sleaze, this 1975 adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s 1957 novel revealed one of the most uncompromising peeks into slave breeding in the American South, two decades before the Civil War. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the movie starred James Mason, Perry King, Brenda Sykes, Susan George and Ken Norton.

 

2-Roots

“Roots” (1977) – David Wolper produced this television miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s 1976 about his mother’s family history as American slaves during a century long period between the mid-18th century and the end of the Civil War. LeVar Burton, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Georg Sanford Brown and Lou Gossett Jr. starred.

 

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“A Woman Called Moses” (1978) – Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries about the life and career of Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, who was the most successful conductor of the Underground Railroad during the last decade before the Civil War. Based on Marcy Heidish’s book, the miniseries was directed by Paul Wendkos.

 

3-Half Slave Half Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

“Half-Slave, Half-Free: Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this television adaptation of free born Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography about his twelve years as a slave in antebellum Louisiana. Gordon Parks directed.

 

4-North and South

“North and South” (1985) – David Wolper produced this television adaptation of John Jakes’ 1982 novel about the experiences of two American families and the growing discord over slavery during the twenty years before the American Civil War. Patrick Swayze and James Read starred.

 

6-Race to Freedom - The Underground Railroad

“Race to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad” (1994) – Actor Tim Reid produced this television movie about four North Carolina slaves’ escape to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred.

 

10-The Journey of August King

“The Journey of August King” (1996) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about an early 19th century North Carolina farmer who finds himself helping a female slave escape from her master and slave catchers. John Duigan directed.

 

8-A Respectable Trade

“A Respectable Trade” (1998) – Emma Fielding, Ariyon Bakare and Warren Clarke starred in this television adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s 1992 novel about the forbidden love affair between an African born slave and the wife of his English master in 18th century Bristol. Suri Krishnamma directed.

 

11-Mansfield Park 1999

“Mansfield Park” (1999) – Slavery is heavily emphasized in Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young English woman’s stay with her rich relatives during the first decade of the 19th century. Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller starred.

 

7-Human Trafficking

“Human Trafficking” (2005) – Mira Sorvino starred in this miniseries about the experiences of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent investigating the modern day sex slave trafficking business. Donald Sutherland and Robert Caryle co-starred.

 

5-Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” (2007) – Michael Apted directed this account of William Wilberforce’s campaign against the slave trade throughout the British Empire in Parliament. Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Romola Garai Rufus Sewell and Albert Finney starred.

 

12-Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012) – History and the supernatural merged in this interesting adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel about the 16th president’s activities as a vampire hunter. Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie and Mary Elizabeth Winstead starred.

 

1-Lincoln

“Lincoln” (2012) – Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed the 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s fascinating account of Lincoln’s efforts to end U.S. slavery, by having Congress pass the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones co-starred.

 

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“Django Unchained” (2012) – Quentin Tarantino directed this take on Spaghetti Westerns about a slave-turned-bounty hunter and his mentor, who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson starred.

Top Ten (10) Favorite Disaster Films

Recently, director James Cameron re-released his 1997 blockbuster “TITANIC” in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic. Because it is a disaster movie, I decided to post my favorite disaster films in the list below: 

 

TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE DISASTER FILMS

1. “2012” (2009) – After a second viewing of Roland Emmerich’s movie about a possible apocalyptic disaster, which is based loosely on the 2012 phenomenon, I realized that it has become a favorite of mine. John Cusak, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson starred.

 

2. “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) – Roland Emmerich also directed this film about catastrophic effects of both global warming and global cooling in a series of extreme weather events that usher in a new ice age. Another personal favorite of mine, it starred Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward and Ian Holm.

 

3. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez starred in this exciting movie about the experiences of a U.S. Marine platoon battling invading aliens in Los Angeles. Jonathan Liebsman directed.

4. “A Night to Remember” (1958) – Roy Ward Baker directed this Golden Globe award winning adaptation of Walter Lord’s book of the same name about the sinking of the Titanic. As far as I am concerned, this is probably the best cinematic version of that particular event. Kenneth More, David McCullum, Ronald Allen and Honor Blackman co-starred.

5. “Titanic” (1953) – This is my second favorite movie about the Titanic and it centered around an estranged couple sailing on the ship’s maiden voyage in April 1912. Great drama! Directed by Jean Negulesco, the movie starred Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, Thelma Ritter, Richard Basehart and Brian Aherne.

 

 

6. “Independence Day” (1996) – Produced by Dean Devlin and directed by Roland Emmerich, this movie is about a disaster of a science-fiction nature, as it depicts a hostile alien invasion of Earth, and its effects upon a disparate group of individuals and families. The movie starred Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia.

 

7. “Titanic” (1997) – James Cameron directed this latest version of the Titanic sinking that won eleven (11) AcademyAwards, including Best Picture. Centered around an ill-fated love story, the movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar nominee Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates and Oscar nominee Gloria Stuart.

 

8. “In Old Chicago” (1937) – Based on the Niven Busch story, “We the O’Learys”, the movie is a fictionalized account about political corruption and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Directed by Henry King, the movie starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Oscar winner Alice Brady.

 

9. “Outbreak” (1995) – Wolfgang Petersen directed this tale about the outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba at a town in Northern California, and how far the military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread. Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey and Donald Sutherland.

 

10. “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) – Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, the movie centered around the capsizing of a luxurious ocean liner by a tsunami caused by an under sea earthquake; and the desperate struggles of a handful of survivors to journey up to the bottom of the hull of the liner before it sinks. Ronald Neame directed a cast that included Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Oscar nominee Shelley Winters, Carol Lynley and Frank Albertson.

As a treat, here is a video clip featuring scenes from recent, well-known disaster movies.

“2012” (2009) Review

“2012” (2009) REVIEW

Last year, I found myself desperate to see any movie during that dismal Fall/Winter movie season. The opportunity to see a possibly entertaining movie finally arose when two of them – ”PIRATE RADIO” and ”2012” – were released in theaters. I had intended to see ”PIRATE RADIO” first. But it was not playing at the theater that we found ourselves attending. And we ended up watching ”2012”

”2012” turned out to be another one of those science-fiction oriented disaster films directed and co-written by Roland Emerich. This is the same man who had directed such films as (1996) “INDEPENDENCE DAY”(1998) “GODZILLA”(1999) “THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR” and (2004) “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”. Now ”2012” centered around a myth about the Mayan calendar, in which certain Western scholars claimed that the world will face a cataclysmic disaster in the year 2012. Mind you, I suspect that the whole world will end in 2012” scenario may have been misinterpreted. There are other beliefs regarding the Mayan calendar. Some believe that the Mayan calendar is supposed to interpret a positive physical or spiritual transformation for the planet, marking the beginning of a new era. And there are modern Mayan scholars who believe that 2012 is largely irrelevant, claiming that classic Maya sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory, suggesting that there was little if any universal agreement among them about what, if anything, the date might mean. Apparently Emmerich and fellow screenwriter, Harald Klaser, decided to explore the disaster scenario.

The story began in 2009 with a visit to India by American scientist Adrian Hemlsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who learns from his friend and colleague Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry) that neutrinos from a solar flare were causing the temperature of the Earth’s core to rapidly increase. This discovery set off a chain of events in which the world’s leaders – including U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) – to collaborate upon a secret project that will ensure the continuity of humanity by choosing 400,000 people for admission aboard a series of large ships or hydraulic arks being constructed in the Himalayas. To help fund the venture, additional individuals were allowed to purchase passage aboard these arks for one billion euros apiece.

By the time the secret project near completion in 2012, a Los Angeles writer and part-time driver for a Russian billionaire named Jackson Curtis (John Cusak) learned about the Mayan myth and the possibility of the world’s future, along with the secret project from a hermit and conspiracy theorist named Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), while vacationing with his kids at Yellowstone National Park. After Jackson returned his kids to his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and her live-in boyfriend Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy), Jackson realized that Frost might be right about an upcoming apocalypse when he drove his employer’s twin sons to the airport. Jackson purchased a small plane and convinced Kate and Gordon to get the kids and escape from Los Angeles with him. Fortunately, Gordon turned out to be an amateur pilot and they escaped from a California sliding into the Pacific following a series of devastating earthquakes. The group returned to the Yellowstone Park in order to learn about the location of the secret project from Frost. After learning that particular information, Jackson and the others barely escape the destruction of Yellowstone and made tracks for Las Vegas and later, China and the Himalayans. Meanwhile, Adrian learned that the Earth’s destruction may come a lot sooner than he and Satnam had surmised. The world leaders and certain members of the population also head for China.

What can I say about ”2010”? Come on. It is a Roland Emmerich disaster film. Which meant that it had disasters of epic proportions, slightly cheesy dialogue and science that was probably more fiction than fact. A Roland Emmerich disaster film also insured a cast of . . . well, many roles in various subplots, including one that featured a fractured American family. And considering that I have seen these very same aspects in other Emmerich films, I should have been bored with ”2012”. Hell, I have read some posts and reviews on the Web that the movie lacked originality. And yet . . . I enjoyed ”2012” very much.

Both Emmerich and Klaser had created a solid script that provided detailed accounts of the three-year countdown to 2012, the disasters that unfolded and the major characters’ experiences in dealing with those same disasters. They also did an exceptional job in detailing the journey that took Jackson, his family and Gordon from Los Angeles to the Himalayas. I also enjoyed the clashes between Adrian and President Wilson’s ruthless and self-serving Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt). Their quarrels focused upon one of the movie’s main themes that centered on humanity’s willingness for compassion toward others. One aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed was the scenes that featured intimate moments between some of the characters. These scenes provided some excellent acting from the likes of John Cusak, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Thomas McCarthy, Blu Mankuma, George Segal, Woody Harrelson, Osric Chau, Oliver Platt and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor. They included:

*Ejiofor and Mankuma gave wonderfully poignant performances as Adrian Helmsley and his father Harry, when the pair have their last conversation via telephone.

*Both Cusak and Harrelson were hilarious in a funny scene that featured Jackson’s attempt to acquire the location of the special project from an excited Charlie Frost.

*Another poignant scene featured performances from Osric Chau and Henry O as Tibetan monk Nima and his mentor Lama Rinpoche, as the former failed to convince the latter about the upcoming apocalypse.

*Danny Glover gave an excellent performance as President Wilson giving his last televised speech. Wilson’s last conversation with his daughter Laura provided as scene that allowed not only Glover to shine, but Thandie Newton as well.

*George Segal was solid as Tony Delgatto, Harry Helmsley’s singing partner, agonizing over the fate of his estranged son and family in Japan.

*Amanda Peet shone in an emotional scene in which her character, Kate Curtis, revealed the angst she had to endure during the Curtis’ marriage.

*And once more, Cusak had another wonderful scene . . . this time with Thomas McCarthy, as former rivals Jackson and Gordon finally make their peace with one another.

*And Ejiofor was superb in a scene in which Adrian attempted to convince the other G8 world leaders to allow those people left behind at the Himalayan dock to board the ship.

Emmerich and Klaser’s script also provided plenty of opportunity for cinematographer Dean Semler, production designer Barry Chusid and the special effects team supervised by Mike Vézina to provide some astounding visuals of world locations being destroyed by natural disasters brought about by the apocalypse. I found the scenes that featured the destruction of Rio de Janeiro, Las Vegas, Rome, a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean and Washington D.C. astounding. But there were two sequences that nearly blew my mind. One featured the Curtis family and Gordon’s spectacular escape from the Yellowstone National Park after Jackson had acquired the information he needed from Frost. The other, which I believe proved to be the piece de resistance, featured Jackson, his family and Gordon’s initial escape from Southern California. Not only did I find it breathtaking, but also a little creepy. I happened to be from that particular area.

Did I have any complaints about ”2012”? Well, I have already mentioned a few. I agree with those critics who had complained about the movie’s lack of originality. There were many traits in the plot that I have seen in other Roland Emmerich films – traits that included cheesy dialogue, the role of the selfish and uncompassionate Presidential aide (this time being portrayed by Oliver Platt), the noble scientist (Ejiofor), a fractured American family pulled together by a natural disaster (the Curtises), the friendly non-American colleague/ally of noble scientist. Yes, I have seen them all in previous Emmerich movies. One day, perhaps the director/writer might be a little more original in any future disaster movie. Who knows? I was also annoyed by the movie’s big finale. It featured the series of incidents (including being struck by a wave from a tsunami) that left the hydraulic ark with the Curtises, Adrian Helmsley and Laura Wilson on board drifting helplessly toward a fatal collision with a half-sunk Mount Everest. Frankly, I found the entire sequence somewhat contrived and annoying. It was just a bit too much.

I suspect that many movie critics will continue to complain that ”2012” lacked originality. And they would be right to do so. And they are also right to complaint about the questionable science featured in the movie. But you know what? I do not care. I thought that despite its flaws, ”2012” was a pretty damn good movie with an entertaining and nail-biting plot. The movie can also boast some solid acting by its cast – especially a first-rate performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor – exciting action sequences and superb visual effects. In other words, I enjoyed ”2012” so much that I hope to see it again. Oh . . . and I do plan to finally see “PIRATE RADIO” as soon as I can.