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 Creator Spotlight: Ken Burns & The Vietnam 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 Creator is Ken Burns and his magnificent 10-part documentary series, “The Vietnam War” (2017):

The Vietnam War

By Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns 637 Pages Publisher: Knopf September 5, 2017

It seems to be ancient history now. But it’s only forty-four years since the fall of Saigan when the last Americans left. Ken Burns in his ten-part documentary and his book with Geoffrey Ward have parted the curtain that divides then and now. And America left behind a country and a war that costs the lives of over fifty-eight thousand Americans and three million Vietnamese. And countless others who were injured and crippled.

Unlike his other series, this is a series about a disaster. And Ken Burns reveals just how much of a disaster. A disaster that lasted for twenty years from 1955 – 1975. Why didn’t the United States just have the good sense to get the hell out?

First of all, it was over dominoes. President Eisenhower believed that if Vietnam fell to the communists of North Vietnam, it would be the first of a series of Southeast Asian countries–Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, maybe even India–to fall to communism like dominoes.

Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon knew that it was a no-win proposition. So why didn’t they just get out? Because they didn’t want to be the first Presidents to be straddled with losing a war. And the generals were like the generals of World War I. They didn’t have a strategy to win.

Without a strategy to win, their mantra became “More. More. More.” Give us more troops. More toys. More time. We’ve got this devil under control. Till we had a half million troops in Vietnam and had spent billions, almost bankrupting the country. And the American people said, “Enough is enough.”

If the American strategy was “More,” the South Vietnamese strategy was “leave us the hell alone.” Just give us the support we need to win what we see as a Civil War. For the North Vietnamese, it was a war of national liberation. They had kicked out the French. And they were intent on getting the “Yankees” to go home. Their strategy to accomplish this was “Adapt. Adapt. Adapt.”

Ken Burns begins his story with Ho Chi Minh. In 1919, before he was a communist, he went to the Paris Peace Conference, asking that Vietnam be independent. Mostly his request was ignored. Only the French commented and their comment was “No.”

From then on, he gives us a narrative filled with primary sources and interviews from all sides. From American diplomats and decision makers. From Americans who served in Vietnam. From the journalists who covered the War. From the anit-war protesters. From the South Vietnamese who lived and fought it. And from the North Vietnamese. And like Ken Burns’ document series of “The Civil War”, the viewer–and the reader—get a perspective of the War we may never have had if Burns had not tackled it.

I had not seen the series when it first appeared on PBS. I wasn’t ready to grasp the confusion, the horror, the divisions of the War. Recently I’ve been working on a Sixties project for work, and I thought it was time I made the effort.

In the past, I have only watched the Burns’s series. This time I thought it might be a good exercise to read the book while I watched the series. I am glad I did. Much of the book was the same as the documentary. But there were times when the documentary presented things that weren’t in the book and vice versa for the series.

For instance, the Tet Offensive was covered in depth in the documentary. But the narrative of the Offensive in the book made much more of an impact.

So I highly recommend that this exercise be tried. Not only for the Vietnam War, but also for other Burns series.

It was a process that took me a month. At the end of the whole process, I walked away from the War with four feelings. The first was I wanted to know more. The second was a feeling of tremendous sadness. A third, the impact of the Wall in Washington, DC, not only on the veterans and their families. But also on the anti-war protesters.

One of the lessons that came out of the series, for me, was the veterans from both sides who had forgiven their enemies. It made me realize that there is only one way forward. it is not hate that will save us all. It is friendship and forgiveness.

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 Creator: Calexico

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 Creator is the band Calexico:

I have a real fondness for the border music of the Southwest. It’s a land where the gringo and the Mexican culture mix and you get such a wonderful sound. There’s the sound of horns and the sound of the mariachi and the guitar.

Calexico is a band that embraces that culture and creates a music that is Latin and rock and country and folk with a bit of border thrown in for good measure. Named after the town of Calexico, California, it’s a unique blend the band calls desert noir.

But it’s not just the music Calexico produces. It’s the lyrics that get me. Led by Joey Burns on guitar and vocals and John Convertino on drums, we get a true authentic American sound. Out of Tucson, Arizona, they’re celebrating a culture you don’t often hear celebrated in the United States Anglo community outside of the Southwest.

And off their latest album, The Thread That Keeps Us:

And now they are touring with Iron & Wine:

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Song: For Good Friday and Easter

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. In honor of Good Friday today and Easter this Sunday, this week’s Spotlight Song is the beautiful “Misere in C minor” by Jan Dismas Zalenka:

In Latin, misere means have mercy. It’s a realization in the petitioner that life is more than the world we live in. We have no control over what happens to us. It is reminder that God is indeed merciful. All we can do is appeal to God to watch over us, to take care of us. How appropriate for Good Friday and Easter.