Uncle Bardie’s Movie Spotlight: After the Sixty Minutes War

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Mortal Engines” (2018):

“Mortal Engines” is not the greatest movie that ever was. That’s the movie whose name we will not speak. But I’m sure that you know the one I’m talking about. The one that makes grown men cry.

I’ll get around to it eventually but not in the movie theaters. I’m waiting for the DVD to show up on Netflix.

If you’re like me and looking for a good two hours of entertainment, “Mortal Engines” might just be your thang. Sure, the title ain’t sexy, but don’t let that hold you back. And the trailer didn’t do much for me either. So my expectations were low to begin with.

Now there isn’t a lot of backstory. But I didn’t need a lot of backstory. I’m given just enough to throw me into the middle of the action and meet the heroine. And I got to tell you this heroine has guts.

“Mortal Engines” plunges the viewer into a steampunk world. It begins many years after the “Sixty Minute War”. Cities are on wheels, rolling around the countryside, chumping up smaller cities and towns. And the biggest, baddest chomper of them all is London. Guess that the Brits will never give up on the Empire on which the sun never set.

Hugo Weaving of Lord of the Rings fame may be the deputy mayor of London but he’s the villain. And Hester the heroine has good reason to stick a knife in his gut. In the opening scene, her town gets the old chomperoo. And before you can say “stempunk” backwards she’s doing her thang. The villain survives. Only because a historian stops her.

Hugo goes after her and throws her down a large dumpster, then he tosses the historian after her. And it is a fun ride after that.

One of the complaints in many of the reviews has been: we’ve seen this story before. Sure. We all recognize the story. But we recognized the Star Wars story. It was the Hero’s Journey. It’s like I’ve been told. There are only two original stories. Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella.

Will I see this one again? Sure will. I wouldn’t recommend it if I wouldn’t see it again.

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Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: How hard can it be?

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is Whiplash (2014):

Many of us, and that includes me, settle for the mediocre when it comes to our art. We have the potential but we’re not willing to put in the time. We’re just not up to practice, practice, practice. We wait for the inspiration to strike us. As far as the work goes, commitment is not a road we’re willing to travel.

Not so for Andrew (Miles Teller). He doesn’t want to settle for being just another drummer. Drums is his religion and he goes after his art the way some people go after prayer. When Fletcher (R. J. Simmons) to join his class, he thinks he has hit pay dirt. He can’t believe the heaven he’s going to be in.

But Fletcher doesn’t promise Andrew heaven. He doesn’t promise him anything. And he definitely doesn’t promise a “good job.” Instead Fletcher asks a commitment and a perseverance he may not be able to give.

Is Fletcher a great teacher or is he a sadist? That’s for the viewer to decide. But “Whiplash” does make us think about what we haven’t given to our art.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: Let the Audrey Shine

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961):

There are a few perfect movies that a remake of them would be blasphemy. “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “The Big Lebowski” and “Casablanca” and “The Ladykillers” (1955) and David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago” and “The Haunting of Hill House” (1959) and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. Oh, sure. Some have tried the remakes but they always turn out badly.

Blake Edwards knew something about making perfect movies. He directed some of the best of the best: Cary Grant, Peter Sellers, Tony Curtis and Julie Andrews. And, in his time, he would direct several very good movies, including “A Shot in the Dark” with Peter Sellers and “10” with Dudley Moore,Julie Andrews and Bo Derek. But “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is his masterpiece and that most perfectest of perfect movies.

There’s George Peppard and there’s Mickey Rooney and a cat named Cat and there’s New York City in the early 1960s and, of course, there’s Tiffany’s. What would a movie named “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” be without Tiffany’s? And then there is Audrey Hepburn. Nobody lit up the screen quite like Audrey Hepburn.

From the very first moments of Henry Mancini’s music and the cab driving down the empty New York City street, then stopping at Tiffany’s and Audrey Hepburn getting out of the taxi, I’m hooked. Audrey, with her hair all bunned up, wears a black dress and a necklace of fake pearls and long black gloves. I can’t think of another actress who could play that moment with the grace and charm of Audrey Hepburn. You don’t know class until you’ve seen Audrey Hepburn on the screen.

Patrica Neal has set her writer, George Peppard, up in an apartment in a brownstone building. He’s her pet and she’s got him on her lease. Until he meets his neighbor, Holly Golightly, played by Audrey Hepburn.

One night George is at his typewriter and he hears Holly outside his window,

There’s no going back for George. Like us, he is smitten. Truman Capote may not have meant for his Holly Golightly to be the very fragile little girl with the tough exterior of the film. But that is the performance that Audrey Hepburn gives us. And it’s the one that makes Holly Golightly so darned memorable.

I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it. So if you’re in need of a little magic, then let the Audrey shine. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” will definitely Audrey up your day.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: John Ford Directs

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is Stagecoach (1939):

“Star Wars” opened the door for decent budgets for the science fiction and fantasy movie genre that followed. “Stagecoach” did the same for Westerns. Before it was made, Westerns were given low budgets and a B-movie rating and B-rated actors. The box office success of “Stagecoach” guaranteed better budgets and first-class actors (and directors) for films like “High Noon”, “Shane”, “Red River” and “Winchester 73”. If “Stagecoach” had bombed at the box office, there might there have been no big budgeted westerns.

The eight people riding the “Stagecoach” are stereotypical Western movie characters. Yet they don’t remain stereotypes. In director John Ford’s hands, each character has their individual moment in the sun. Their particular humanity shines and reveals a hint of their lifetime of stories.

Inside the coach, there’s six passengers. Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell) is the alcoholic doctor, and Dallas (Claire Trevor), the salon girl, both run out of town by the “Law and Order League”. There’s Banker Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill) running off with his ill-gotten loot; a pregnant southern belle, Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), on the way to meet her cavalry-officer husband; and a whiskey salesman, Samuel Peacock, (Donald Meek) afraid of his own shadow. John Carradine plays Hatfield, a southern gentleman of a gambler, who has a bit of Doc Holliday in him. Atop the coach, and in the driver seat, is Buck (Andy Devine), who is thecomic relief. Beside him sits lawman Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft).

Then the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) steps in front of that stage and joins the others as a ninth pilgrim. Turns out the real gentleman isn’t the gambler. It’s Ringo. He gives Dallas a drink from a canteen and a place at his table in the waystation. An escaped prisoner, he’s intent on killing the man who murdered his father and his brother. Thanks to Ford’s direction, John Wayne gives us the complex character of a decent man who’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. In the meantime, he’s falling in love with the girl with the heart of gold. Despite her cynicism, she’s falling in love with the big galloot as well.

“Stagecoach” is a tale of a pilgrimage that could have come out of “The Canterbury Tales”. Only it takes place not in Merry Olde England but in the American West. In Monument Valley to be exact.

Part of the reason westerns became so popular in the forties and the fifties were the settings. On the big screen, Hollywood treated audiences landscapes of America they had not imagined. And John Ford’s locations in Monument Valley began the start of Hollywood trend that location is as much a character as any of the actors. Roger Ebert put it well when he wrote of Monument Valley, “its prehistoric rock pillars framing the smallness of men.” Often leaving the audience impressed with the settings, the Western landscape became as much a star in these films as CGI is in movies today.

For both John Ford and “Duke” Wayne, “Stagecoach” brought a new phase in their careers. Ford took an out-of-favor genre, the Western, and stamped it with his own genius. From then on, he was considered one of the top American film directors. Until the end of his career, he used that success as an opportunity to explore the West as a symbol of American mythology. With “Stagecoach”, Ford showed that he was a master of composition, action, and casting.

Despite the producer’s resistance, he knew actors, and he knew John Wayne was perfect for the Ringo Kid. John Wayne emerged from the wilderness of B Westerns where he had languished for almost ten years. During those years he had learned his craft so well that he emerged from “Stagecoach” as a major bankable star.

The Duke’s performance in “Stagecoach” revealed what a master of reaction and body language he was. When Bert Glennon’s camera caught John Wayne in its lens, it was love at first sight. Even though star billing went to Claire Trevor, it was, and still is, obvious to the viewer that Ford’s star was Wayne the moment he stepped in front of that stagecoach and into the light.

Of the movie, Orson Welles would say, “John Ford was my teacher. My style has nothing to do with his, but ‘Stagecoach’ was my textbook. I ran it over forty times.”

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Song: Shake Me

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Song is “Shake Me” by The Blue Bell:

All I can say is that these guys rock. It’s amazing who you’ll come across late at night when you’re not looking for anything in particular. I stumbled on these guys on Amazon Prime music. So listen on and see if they don’t get your feet dancing.