Friday, November 28, 2014

"RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD" (1994) Image Gallery

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Below are images from the 1994 television movie, "RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD". Produced by Tim Reid and directed by Don McBrearty, the movie starred Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance:


"RACE TO FREEDOM: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD" (1994) Image Gallery

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE" (2005) Review

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"HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE" (2005) Review

Despite the release of the first two movies in the film franchise, I did not become a fan of the "HARRY POTTER" series until I saw the 2004 movie, "HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN". I became so enamored of this third film that I regarded the release of its successor, "HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE", with great anticipation. 

Released during the fall of 2005 and based upon J.K. Rowling's 2000 novel, "HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE" follows boy wizard Harry Potter's fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This year proves to be a special one for Harry when he unexpectedly finds himself competing in the wizard world's Tri-Wizard Tournament, a magical competition for young wizards from three different schools, who are 17 years old or older. Not only does the 14 year-old Harry have to deal with the contempt from Hogswarts students who believe he had cheated to enter the competition, he also have to deal with the dangerous tasks that make up the competition and an unpleasant surprise that awaits him once the tournament ends. 

When the movie first hit the theaters nine years ago, many had hailed "GOBLET OF FIRE" as the best of the four HARRY POTTER movies, released thus far. I wish I could have agreed with that assessment of"GOBLET OF FIRE". I really wish I could. But . . . I cannot. Personally, I feel that these critics may have overrated the 2005 film. Why? I considered it the weakest of the first four movies. I would not consider the movie a complete waste of my time. It did feature some very entertaining and mesmerizing scenes. My favorites include the opening sequence in which Harry dreams of Lord Voldemort, Peter Pettigrew and a mysterious man being interrupted by an elderly handyman named Frank Bryce inside a mansion, before the latter is killed by Pettigrew; Headmaster Albus Dumbledore pulling the names of the Tri-Wizard Tournament competitors from the Goblet of Fire; Harry and Ron's quarrel over the former being one of the tournament's competitors; the competition's second task; the third task inside the claustrophobic maze and Harry's encounter with the . . . uh, unpleasant surprise. But my favorite sequence in the entire film has to be the Yule Ball - the Christmas celebration for the tournament's participants, the foreign visitors and Hogswarts' students and faculty staff. I would say that it is one of the best sequences in the entire "HARRY POTTER"film franchise. It is just a joy to watch . . . from the preparations for the ball (that included finding dates and learning how to dance) to the immediate aftermath of the special night.

"HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE" featured some pretty decent performances. But they seemed far and between. Both Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint gave excellent performances as the two best friends - Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. I was especially impressed that they managed to restrain from any theatrical acting when their characters became drawn into a quarrel over Harry's participation in the tournament. Maggie Smith was her usual competent self as the always dependable Professor Minerva McGonagall. Alan Rickman's portrayal of potions teacher Severus Snape continued to be a joy to watch. My only disappointment was that his role seemed rather diminished in this film. I was pleasantly surprised by Brendan Gleeson's portrayal of the colorful teacher and former wizard aurorer, Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody. Gleeson could have indulged in a great deal of hamminess with such an eccentric character. But he kept his performance in full control, while conveying the oddball nature of "Mad Eye". Miranda Richardson gave a deliciously wicked performance as Rita Skeeter, a reporter who harbored an indulgence for yellow journalism that annoyed poor Harry to no end. I found Jason Isaac's portrayal of Lucius Malfoy rather theatrical in the Quidditch World Cup scene. But I must admit that I was very impressed by the subtle manner in which he portrayed his character's obsequious manner in the film's last half hour. The movie also featured solid performances from Robert Pattison and Katie Leung, who portrayed the student lovers, Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang; Timothy Spall as Death Eater Peter Pettigrew; Robbie Coltrane as Hogwarts teacher Rubeus Hagrid; Frances de la Tour as Beauxbaton Headmistress Olympe Maxime and Eric Sykes as Riddle handyman, Frank Bryce.

Unfortunately, I could find nothing further to admire about "HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE". My first problem turned out to be the screenplay written by Steve Kloves. I did not expect him to be completely faithful to Rowling's novel. It would take a two-week miniseries to be completely faithful to it. But there were some scenes I with Kloves had eliminated. One, he cut the scene featuring the Weasleys' visit to the Dursley home on Privet Drive to pick up Harry for the Qudditch World Cup. I mourned this cut, for I believe it was one of the funniest scenes in Rowling's book series. But Kloves' further cuts left the main narrative with some serious plot holes. Kloves' screenplay never explained how Death Eater Barty Couch Jr. managed to escape from the wizarding world's prison, Azkaban, without the authority's knowledge. How did Lord Voldemort and Couch Jr. learn about the Tri-Wizard Tournament in the first place? Also, there was one scene that featured "Mad Eye" Moody's arrival at Hogwarts with no luggage or trunk. Yet, there was another scene in which Harry visited Moody's room and spotted a trunk. How did the teacher convey his trunk to the castle?

There were other problems that marred my enjoyment of the film. I read an article in which director Mike Newell decided to portray the Hogwarts students in a more "realistic" manner - in other words, as British school children would behave in real life. Unfortunately, his attempt at "realism" merely allowed most of the actors and actresses portraying Hogwarts students engage in theatrical performances. Even worse, Newell did the opposite with the visiting foreign students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons by wallowing in one-dimensional cliches with their portrayals. I found one scene in which Harry's trip to the school prefects' bath was interrupted by a ghost known as Moaning Myrtle. I realize that Myrtle was supposed to be around 14 (the age of her death), the same age as Harry was in this story. But watching actress Shirley Henderson, who was 39-40 years old at the time, flirt with a half-naked or naked Daniel Radcliffe made me squirm in my seat with a good deal of discomfort. On the other hand, I felt a great deal of disappointment toward the movie's production style and look. I get the feeling that Production Designer Stuart Craig and Cinematographer Roger Pratt, along with Newell, were trying to recapture the look or style of Middle Earth, as shown in "LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS" and "LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING". I hated the look in those movies and I hated it in this film.

My biggest problem with "GOBLET OF FIRE" turned out to be the acting. I have already pointed out what I believe were the better performances in the film. As for the rest of the cast . . . sigh. I have never encountered so much hammy acting in my life. It seemed that three-quarters of the cast spent most of the time shouting their dialogue. I am not just talking about the performances of those portraying the students, but especially the adult actors and actresses. There were some questionable performances that really caught my attention. Emma Watson is a first-rate actress, but she seemed to be trying to hard in her portrayal of Hermione Granger in this film. Michael Gambon, who had done such a wonderful job in his debut as Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, gave a completely different - and very hammy - performance in "GOBLET OF FIRE". Roger Lloyd-Pack was another actor whom one could depend upon for a first-rate performance. Not in this film. He seemed to be a bundle of out-of-control nerves and theatrical in his role as head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Barty Crouch Sr. The previous performances mentioned were nothing in compare to both David Tennant and Ralph Fiennes. Lloyd-Pack's twitchy performance was nothing in compare to David Tennant, whose performance as Death Eater Barty Crouch Jr. revealed more twitchy mannerisms in this one movie than Bette Davis did in her entire film career. But when it came to chewing the scenery, no one did it better than Ralph Fiennes in his debut as the series' main villain, Tom Riddle Jr. aka Lord Voldemort. Words cannot describe the over-the-top performance he gave in the movie's climatic scene. And I cannot help but wonder why Newell did not reign in his performance. Then again, he was barely able to do the same with other cast members, as well.

Yes, "HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE" struck me as far from perfect. Thanks to the plot holes, unattractive production look and the numerous hammy performances, I found it difficult to consider it a great favorite of mine. But despite its flaws, I still managed to enjoy the film. It just strikes me as a pity that it turned out to be a comedown after the franchise's first three films . . . at least for me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TIME MACHINE: Sherman's March to the Sea - Part One

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TIME MACHINE: SHERMAN'S MARCH TO THE SEA - PART ONE

November 15 marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's military march from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia. Following the Union Army's successful end of the Atlanta Campaign two months earlier, Sherman and Union Army commander Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant decided that the only way to put an end to the Civil War was to end the Confederacy's strategic, economic and psychological capacity for warfare. 

Sherman proposed an operation to march through the state of Georgia via liberal foraging of the local countryside that the Union Army would march through. Many historians have compared this to the modern principles of scorched earth warfare or total war. He hoped this operation would have a destructive effect upon the morale of Georgia's civilian population. Sherman's second objective was to increase pressure on General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which was under siege in Petersburg, Virginia by Grant and the Army of the Potomoc. By moving in Lee's rear and performing a massive turning movement against him, Sherman hoped to allow Grant the opportunity to break through or keep other Southern reinforcements away from Virginia. The campaign began with the Army of the Tennessee leaving Atlanta, Georgia on November 15. During the next 40 days or so, Sherman's forces destroyed military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property and disrupted not only the State of Georgia's economy and its transportation networks, but also those that belonged to the Confederacy.

The Army of the Tennessee first consumed its 20 days of rations at the beginning of the march. Then it reduced its need for traditional supply lines by "living off the land". Foragers, known as "bummers" provided food seized from local farms for the Army, while the latter destroyed the railroads and the manufacturing and agricultural infrastructure of Georgia. While planning the march, Sherman used livestock and crop production data from the 1860 census to lead his troops through areas where he believed they would be able to forage most effectively. The troops twisted and broke railroad rails before heating them over fires and wrapping them around tree trunks. Those twisted rails became known as "Sherman's neckties">. Since the Army was out of touch with the North during the March, Sherman gave explicit orders regarding the conduct of the campaign. It became known as Sherman's Special Field Orders, No. 120.

William Sherman not only commanded the Army of the Tennessee during this period, but also the entire Military Division of the Mississippi. This meant he did not employ all of the men under his command to the Savannah Campaign. Since Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood's army was threatening Sherman's supply line from Chattanooga, Tennessee; Sherman detached the Army of the Cumberland under Major General George H. Thomas to deal with Hood in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Sherman's personal escort on the march was the First Alabama Cavalry Regiment, a unit mainly staffed by Southerners who remained loyal to the Union. In the end, Sherman had to face opposition fromLieutenant-General William J. Hardee's Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; of which Hood had taken with him during his campaign in Tennessee. Sherman's troops also faced the Georgia state militia, under the command of Major General Gustavus Woodson Smith. Most of the state's militia consisted of elderly men and boys. 

Many military historians tend to view William Sherman's decision to march his army through the state of Georgia, deep within enemy territory and without supply lines as revolutionary in the annals of war. Yet, his plans for the march were based upon Grant's successful Vicksburg Campaign. And Grant had based that particular campaign on Winfield Scott's march to Mexico City, during the Mexican-American War. Perhaps Sherman's strategy and tactics for the Savannah Campaign was not as original as many seemed to believe. But it proved to be very effective.

This is Part One on my look at Sherman's March to the Sea.