Uncle Bardie’s Movie Spotlight: A Murder Needs A-solvin’

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 “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017): 

“A passenger has died,” the brilliant detective, Hercule Poirot announces to the other passengers on the Orient Express. “He was murdered…So let us catch a killer.” Indeed. What would a movie, or for that matter a novel, with the word “murder” in the title be if there wasn’t a murder?

We’ve seen this movie before. In 1974, to be exact. Albert Finney was Sidney Lumet’s Hercule. Lumet gave us an adequate “Murder”, but there wasn’t any thing inspiring about Albert Finney. Other than the scenery and the costumes and a few famous actors going over the top with their caricatures of a performance, there wasn’t much to entertain.

When I saw that Kenneth Branagh, yes that Branagh. You know the one. The guy who played Hamlet in what may very well be the longest version of “Hamlet” ever, and directed it besides. He made sure he got all the words in which made me one of the few folks who sat through the whole darn thing. Well, Branagh directs this remake as well. And he plays the famous detective too.

The previews gave me some nice cinematography but that didn’t seem to be enough to make me give up an hour and fifty-four minutes of my time. I knew it wasn’t bad but I was pretty darn sure it wasn’t good either.

Boy, was I wrong.

Upon a recommendation from a friend, I gave this one a try. Branagh gives us a true entertainment in the best tradition of the word. Yes, there is a murder in this one. And, yes, Poirot is not happy about having to solve it. But what can he do? He’s the only brilliant detective on the Orient Express.

Just in case you didn’t know. This takes place in the 1930s and the Orient Express goes from Paris to Istanbul. And it’s going at a leisurely pace. In other words, slowly.

Poirot has just finished solving a crime in Jerusalem. He’s tired and needs a little me time. Little does he know he’s not going to get it when he steps onto that train in Istanbul. During his sojourn, a rich American approaches him. That American is Johnny Depp, being his most Johnny-Depp-ing. He’s become very a-Depp at that in the last few years. I think his portrayals of Tonto and Jack Sparrow have gone to his head.

Johnny Depp’s Edward Ratchett offers to purchase Poirot’s services. He has been threatened and he needs protection. Unfortunately, Poirot only works for people after they have been murdered. There’s just no way he’s going to be caught dead, protecting someone from getting dead. Once Edward Ratchett is dead, it’s a completely different story.

The piece de resistance of Branagh’s film is the third act. Here we see the humanity in a Poirot that others have only shown as a calculator. Here we are shown the impact of murder on its victim. Not only is the murdered a victim. All who knew and loved the victim have become the killer’s victims. Branagh and his Poirot has managed to pull the true import out of what many would consider a cliche and turn this entertainment into something wonderful. I’m sure Agatha Christie would be pleased.


Near 500 words: Independence

Happy Birthday, USA. It’s Independence Day. 

Well, we got to see Independence Hall in Philadelphia on our vacay. Gollee, it was so nice. Just to think that’s where Betty Ross made that flag. And it was a real pretty flag too. On top of that, it was where George Washington freed them slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation. Man, that’s a mouthful. And he did it all at the same time he chopped down that cherry tree. I looked for its stump but it wasn’t there.

Before we went, we studied all about independence in school. I looked up the word. I read about it. Its definition, you know. I told my mama that I could do anything I wanted. Independence means freedom from control or the influence of another or others.

Darn if she didn’t slap my face. Said, “Boy, it also means you gotta be able to support yourself. Till you can do that, you gotta do what I say. And I say get in there and do the dishes.”

‘Course I did the dishes. I may be independent but I sure gotta do what my mama says. ‘Cause I don’t want a whooping.

Then I went and translated it into German and Dutch and Greek. Not whooping. Independence. Used that there Google translate. Got some really nice words too. Don’t know what they mean but they were nice. Hard to pronounce though. And that Greek was all squiggly words. Looked like they’s moving and all. Weirdest thing.

Anyway I copied that Greek word. Even drew a picture of what it looked like. It looked like that time I was at the beach and there’s Uncle Ernie with all his kids. They’s all standing in a row for that picture we took of them. Nice. Really nice.

Hope y’all know that I can’t wait till I grow up. Then I can be independent and eat all the ice cream I want. And I don’t have to eat my spinach. That’s for sure.

Natasha and the Elephant

Natasha loved a good book. Give her a good book and she was gone like a light. She could sit still for hours, her blue eyes glued to the page, her lips slightly moving, occasionally pushing strands of her long red hair out of her face to get a better view of the page. When asked what she was reading, she looked up from the page, those freckles on her face alive with joy. “Oh, it’s a book.” Then she went back to the page.

By the time she was reading for university, it seemed she had read near all the classics. And not in her language which was Russian. In the original languages. She read Homer in Greek, Virgil in Latin, Dante in Italian, Shakespeare in English, Moliere in French, Goethe in German, Basho in Japanese. When she read a book in another language, she sat with a dictionary from that language and turned the pages, searching for the word she saw in the book. She was fast doing this.

Though she loved literature, she decided the best career for her was the law. She loved  details and the law was filled with details. The poetry and the fiction she had read over the years taught her compassion. So she took on hopeless cases. If she not taken them on, her clients would have received maximum sentences. Most still received maximum sentences when they were found guilty. And they were often found guilty. At least, they had good representation. From time to time, she was able to work miracles and see them freed.

Occasionally she pointed out a piece of the law judges and prosecutors had forgotten. Because of this knowledge, prosecutors and big time lawyers wanted her on their side. But she resisted.

Her clients had no money, so Natasha worked on the side doing legal work when she wasn’t involved in a case. It was way to pay her expenses and ilk out a living. Over ten or fifteen years, she worked in the trenches, tirelessly. Her head always in a law book. She never tired of the law and the law rewarded her for her diligence.

Then came the case of the elephant.

A circus elephant charged her trainer one night. Her name was Kanda. After the elephant charged and escaped its trainer, it escaped and roamed the countryside as a wild thing. Hunters went after her but she eluded them for weeks.

Natasha was in the area on vacation. It was her first vacation since she left law school. She seldom read the newspapers. But she saw someone else with a paper open. There was an elephant on the front page. Her curiosity got the best of her. Why was an elephant in the news?

“Can I see your front page?” she asked the woman with the paper.

“I’m finished with it. You can have the whole paper.” The woman passed over the paper.

Natasha was shocked at the story. She went and talked to several people at the circus.

“She was such a gentle creature,” one said.

Another pointed out, “Very smart.”

Finally, she talked to someone who had seen the incident. “That Pyotr Pyotrovich is a cruel man. How Kanda put up with him for so long is beyond me?”

“Will you tell a judge this?” Natasha asked the woman who was a trapeze artist.

The woman hesitated. If she talked, she might lose her job. Finally, she said, “Yes.”

Natasha took the woman before a judge. The judge issued an injunction. Any hunter killing Kanda would be prosecuted. Until the judge issued a decree.

The hearing was set for Tuesday. On Monday, Natasha contacted the local papers and national papers, knowing that good publicity mattered. The courtroom was packed that Tuesday morning when the judge entered the courtroom.

“This is highly unusual for a court to hold hearing on a thing like this,” the prosecutor smugly pronounced.

“Yes, it is. But here we are,” the judge said.

Natasha called the owner of the circus to the stand. “How old is Kanda?”

“Approximately forty years.”

“And she has spent her years in captivity, has she not?”

“Yes. I bought her from another circus that went out of business. I am very good at business so she helped my circus prospered.” There was pride in the owner’s voice at how good he was at business.

“If she was such an asset to your business, why did you give her over to a cruel and uncaring trainer?”

“I never saw that trainer be cruel and uncaring.”

“Then why do you think Kanda charged and almost killed him?”

“I don’t know.”

Several other witnesses gave positive reviews of the elephant. How she was so good with children. How there was never ever any trouble. She was the gentlest of animals. They were all shocked at what happened.

Natasha called Pyotr Pyotrovich to the stand. “How did you treat Kanda?”

“I was like a father to her.”

“That is all,” Natasha said. Then she called Tatiana, Pyotrovich’s oldest daughter, to the stand.

“How does your father treat you?” Natasha asked.

“My father is a good man.”

Natasha called the younger daughter, Alina, to the stand.

“How does your father treat you?”

“My father is a good man.”

“Now remember you have to tell the truth. It is the law. If you do not tell the truth, you can be sent to jail. Do you want to go to jail?”

“I do not want to go to jail.”

“If you go to jail, your sister would be alone with your father. Is this not true?”

“Yes, it is true.” There was a great sadness in the daughter’s voice.

“Then tell us. How does your father treat you?”

The girl looked over at her father, then she looked at her sister next to him. She hesitated, then spoke the truth, “He beats me.” Then she shouted for all the world to hear, “And he has raped my sister. Kanda saw it and was trying to defend my sister. She hated the things my father did to us.”

Pyotr Pyotrovich stood up and shouted, “She lies. She lies.”

Tatiana left her father’s side and ran to her sister and the two embraced. They were crying.

“Order. Order in my court,” the judge shouted.

An officer of the court walked over and demanded the trainer sit down.

The judge turned to Tatiana. “Girl, is this true?”

Whimpering, Tatiana nodded a yes.

The judge turned to the officer of the court and said, “Arrest that man.”

Then he turned to the owner, “If we find Kanda, will you give her a home and treat her with the dignity she deserves?”

The owner was crying. ‘I will.”

“Then Kanda will not be killed. She will be returned to the circus to be treated with the dignity she deserves. If she is not, and she is injured in any way, there will be consequences.”

A farmer stood up and said, “Your honor, I have the elephant. She is the most wonderful of elephants. I wish to become her trainer.”

The judge took character statements as to the character of the farmer. Then the judge agreed. The farmer could join the circus and train Kanda and the three other elephants. Then he turned to Natasha, “The court thanks you.”

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Skydog

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 legendary guitarist Duane Allman:

Before Stevie Ray Vaughan, before Joe Bonamasa, before John Mayer, there was Duane Allman. In the late sixties, Skydog was one of the Allman Brothers with his brother Greg. He was also in demand studio guitarist. He played on Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude”, Aretha Franklin’s “The Weight” and Boz Skagg’s “Loan Me a Dime”. He is considered to be one of the all-time greatest guitarists by many critics who know their way around a guitar.

Eric Clapton heard him and invited him and his band to work on Derek and Dominoes sessions for Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

Instrumental in the founding of Southern rock, he was such a force that he has been an inspiration to many rock guitarists of his time and of many who have come since. Unfortunately we lost him too too early. He died from a motorcycle accident in 1971. He was 24 years old.

The Allman Brothers with Duane on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”.

Boz Scaggs and Duane Allman on “Loan Me a Dime”.



Near 500 words: The Singer

Clara wakes up happy. I know this is not a good way to start a story. I’m supposed to have the main character in distress or at least thinking about distress. But the thing is. Clara is happy.

She is so happy she wants to sing it to the world. And sing it to the world she is going to do. She has a recording contract.

Her gray eyes and her smile show just how happy she is. She had been with her manager all day the previous day choosing songs to take to her producer.

Clara is tired. She has gotten only a little sleep. Her excitement kept her awake most of the night. Her day has finally arrived and she is going to sing for the world.

It is early when she wakes.

Finally, you’re getting somewhere with the story. Clara is going to have an accident on the way to the studio, you’re saying.

Not true. Not true. Nothing is going to happen on the way to the studio. She is going to arrive and sing like the nightingale she was in a former life.

Once she is in the studio, her producer is not going to like the songs she has chosen.

Oh, no. He will like them just fine. You see, he’s in love with Clara. He’s in love with her voice. And he’s in love with her songs. In his mind, her songs are wonderful. They are about the life of her grandmother. She came to Israel when she was a teenager to escape the Holocaust. And escape she did. She came and worked on a kibbutz. The album will end with her grandmother’s garden. It will start off sad and end very happy.

It’s the story of Dorothy escaping to Oz and falling in love with Oz. No returning to Kansas for Dorothy. Dorothy is just fine with Oz and so is Toto. She loves Oz so much that she wants Auntie Em and her uncle to come and live with her. But it’s too late. The tornado took them and the government repossessed the farm. It wasn’t that good of afarm anyway.

The Wizard may have been a disappointment in Oz but everything is just hunky dory since Dorothy melted that witch. The munckins sang hip-hip-hooray. The citizens of Oz sang hip-hip-hooray. Even the horse of a different color sang hip-hip-hooray.

It was then that Dorothy met her Prince Charming. He was a shoe salesman. It’s amazing how many times these Cinderella stories revolve around feet.

After the war, Clara’s grandmother returned to Germany. She went to Auschwitz where her parents and her brother had died. Kansas was not the place she had loved as a young girl. So she returned to Israel and met her Prince Charming. Five kids they had. One of them was Clara’s mother. Her grandfather found in the Israel War of Independence. He fought against Nassar and his allies. While Clara’s grandmother made a home for her husband and her children.

She also made the most wonderful garden. And Clara is going to sing about that garden. That is the final song, “The Garden”. It begins with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It continues with the garden that was the Alhambra. And it ends with memories of Monet’s Garden, all metaphors for Clara’s grandmother’s garden. The last line of the last song, “Dorothy loved the Gardens of Oz.”