Movie Night – ‘Lady Bird’ offers fine acting, humor

By Bradley Griffith

It should be no surprise that Oscar-nominated films frequently fail to live up to the hype surrounding their nominations. Yet every year I keep looking for the gem from awards season that is actually worthy of being nominated for best picture of the year. “Lady Bird” is neither a hidden gem nor a disappointment. It’s not great, nor is it terrible. But for the price of a home rental it may be worth seeing.

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is an unusual 18-year-old high school senior that for some unknown reason wants to be called Lady Bird. She’s eccentric and artistic and lives on what she calls the wrong side of the tracks from many other students in her private Catholic school in Sacramento that she can attend only through a scholarship. She has only one real friend, Julie Steffans (Beanie Feldstein).

Lady Bird’s mother, Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf), is always hard on her. Whether she is fussing at her for using two towels after a shower, constantly telling her how she is ungrateful, or refusing to ever give her compliments, Lady Bird and her mom clash on many levels on virtually every day. Many times they even have difficulty speaking to each other.

Lady Bird and Julie seem to finally find their groove when they sign up for a play with the drama department. Lady Bird meets a boy and they are part of a new group of friends. Then, for some inexplicable reason, Lady Bird tries to become friends with the cool, rich kids. For a while she is accepted by her new “friends.” She even finds a new boyfriend.

Lady Bird wants to go to college on the east coast where the cities have culture, which, according to her, is totally lacking in Sacramento. She doesn’t know if she could get in or how she could pay for one of those expensive private universities. Her mom wants her to stay in California and attend UC Davis, so she doesn’t tell her mom when she applies to several schools on the east coast.

“Lady Bird” is an average story about an eccentric teenage girl who doesn’t seem to know exactly what she wants. The story itself is fairly mediocre with no great twists or unusual bits that make it any different from any other coming-of-age story we have seen before. It’s neither the beginning of the story for Lady Bird, nor is it the ending. And it would be nice if the movie explained why she wants to be called Lady Bird.

In many ways it’s a story about family. Lady Bird and her mom can’t seem to agree on anything, which seems fairly common when it comes to teenage girls and their parents. The interaction between mother and daughter may be taken to a bit of an extreme for the movie, but it does illustrate that even though your family loves you more than anyone else and is always on your side, sometimes it’s more difficult to have a real conversation with your family than anyone else.  Especially when you are a teenage girl.

There are two aspects of the movie that make it enjoyable. The first is the fine acting performances of Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. If you didn’t know better you would believe that they were actually mother-daughter with the way they acted on the screen. They were imminently believable, which is what you really need in any acting performance.

The second part of the movie that is entertaining is its humor. The interactions between mother and daughter, and with Lady Bird at a school where she doesn’t feel like she fits in, are crazy and funny, mostly because they are honest and genuine. You can imagine these situations happening to a teenage girl every day in every part of the world, but you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate Lady Bird’s reactions.

The best parts of “Lady Bird” are those that surround mother and daughter and the whole family. The fact that I can sympathize with both mother and daughter is kind of scary, because it means I am getting old.

• • •

Grade: B

Rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity, and teen partying.

A Refreshing Knapp – 2018: A Year to remember

By Ray Knapp

Not halfway gone, but you know this will be a year to remember, thanks in no small part to President Donald J. Trump. The news media for, and against him, gave him an A+ rating for his tweets. All they have to do is keep-up as he writes tomorrow’s headlines, tweeting at a furious pace, and about multiple issues during all hours of the day and night. Additionally, he astonishes the world, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, or not, (Kim Jung-Un has proven slippery as an eel.) Additionally Trump has threatened to slap tariffs and trade embargoes on our biggest trading partners.

Democrats call some of Trump’s moves crazy, while the Republicans reply: Yes, crazy like a fox. Sometimes I flip a coin to see which side I agree with. It is definitely hard to be in the middle, or even slightly left or right – as both sides are adamant that if you’re not 100 percent with them, then you are against them.

After my wife watches Hollywood Entertainment (or is it just E-News?) I watch a little local news, CNN and Fox. And there are many issues. Wars are raging in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Terrorism of one sort or another is wreaking havoc around the globe.

Painting a grim picture of a world gone mad, the news media details assassins driving trucks into crowds; mass shooting at schools; violent street gangs often shooting police, or one another. If there is a slow news day, the media turns to Mother Nature who is always coughing up violent storms, floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes.

Fortunately, I can turn off the TV; walk out on the porch; smell the new mown lawn; see the flowers blooming; survey the surrounding mountains, and thank the Lord for living in the Valley Beautiful, where – for the most part, life is good, free of worry and cares and you don’t have to drive for miles to have a good time.

For instance, I went up to Flag Pond on the 12th of the month to the Ruritan’s 33rd Ramp Festival. I noticed things are changing on the south end of the county with all kinds of construction going on for the new Rocky Fork State Park. One thing that hadn’t changed was the festival. Ramps still had that odor that takes a little getting used to – but still tasted great in the fried potatoes. The people were still laid-back and friendly; the friends I knew from when I lived there 10 years ago were older, but still hard at work keeping the festival running smoothly. The Unicoi High School Bluegrass Band was playing as I left to deliver a bunch of to-go dinners. After all my gabbing there wasn’t time to stay and listen.

On the 19th, I had to check out Unicoi’s Strawberry Festival. The festival was great, with excellent music; booths selling about anything you can think of; Scott’s famous strawberries for sale everywhere; generally topping some shortcake. A beauty pageant got things started – with girls dressed like princesses and all looking beautiful as Meghan Markel, whose wedding to Prince Harry was showing on TV as I departed home for the festival. I left before seeing who won, to watch my grandson, Dusty Baucom, in a children’s fishing contest at Rock Creek Park – I couldn’t miss that.

In between the two festivals I managed to squeeze in two church services on Mother’s Day; one at Grace United Methodist at 8:45 in the morning, then drove-up the road a piece and attended Unicoi Baptist’s 11 a.m. service. When you’re preaching from the same Book, it’s hard to tell who is a Baptist, or a Methodist. It didn’t matter; I was among friends, and for a change – listening to Good News.

A hundred years ago, in 1918, my father was a soldier returning home at the end of WWI. Unfortunately that wasn’t the war that ended all wars. Soldiers, from here, are in harm’s way today. Maybe you have relatives in one of nature’s destructive paths. Preachers are saying its end times. I don’t know, but I’m sure we will remember 2018.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Celebrate the Mrs. Bs in your life

By Lisa Whaley

With the focus on mothers this past Sunday, my mind has, of course, been filled with memories of my own sweet mama and all that she gave to her family. Fortunately, though she is far away from me, I was still able to visit with her via phone and let her know what she means to me.

I am so blessed to have her as my mother.

But this week, I have also been thinking about other women – other mothers – whose love has helped guide me through my life.

I have a mother-in-law whose grace, sweetness and Christian love were evident from the first moment my husband, Tim, brought me home to her, and those qualities have never waned. And I have an Aunt Judy, 95 years young and my mother’s sister, who loves all of us like we were her own.

And those are just two.

But for some reason, the ones who keep coming to mind this week are two lovely ladies from my childhood, Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Burton.

To my 9-year-old eyes, these saints of God seemed very, very old; attired in similar print cotton dresses, sensible shoes and gray hair pulled into a bun. Yet they never acted old, nor were they too aged to take on the antics of several small girls, eager to get together for snacks, conversation and a little godly pursuit.

The ladies called our afterschool group “Girls Missionaries.”

Each week, we would leave school and walk to Mrs. Burns’ little white house at the end of the lane – a house she shared with Mr. Burton, a retired farmer.

I never knew where Mrs. Burton lived; just somewhere “nearby.”

In the Burns’ comfy, cozy living room, we would gather to hand-stitch pieces of quilting together while one of the Mrs. B’s would share a Bible study.

These quilts would eventually adorn the beds of missionaries around the world, and the encouraging words these ladies shared during our sewing still circles inside of my head.

After our lesson, we would hurry into the tiny kitchen to sit at the lone table squeezed into one corner. There, I would taste my first Nutter Butter, a nostalgic favorite to this day, and dig into squares of rich chocolate cake topped with warm chocolate gravy.

Eventually, we girls grew older; chocolate cake; cookies and sewing were less alluring and our little group of missionary girls disbanded. We went onto what we thought were much more age-appropriate pursuits: ball games, young love and even top 40 hits.

And for a long time, the Mrs. B’s were simply sweet older ladies from my childhood – still ancient against the backdrop of my youth; somewhat dull and ordinary, but always kind.

As I have grown older, however, I have come to see these ladies for who they really were and recognize their unique boldness. In our tiny town of 300, these calico-clad ladies in sensible shoes helped four young girls look far beyond our neighborhood streets and understand we could make an impact.

Overall, Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Burton taught us all about faith, commitment and love, and they did it all in much the way a mother guides her young daughters.

This week, remember to hug the Mrs. Burns and Mrs. Burtons in your life. And if you have an opportunity to become a Mrs. B, seize it.

That small seed you plant could yield something amazing.

Movie Night – Hugh Jackman shines in ‘The Greatest Showman’

By Bradley Griffith

I’m not a musical kind of guy, not at all.  The only musical I recall ever enjoying is the latest film version of “Les Miserables” starring Hugh Jackson. Because “The Greatest Showman” also starred Hugh Jackman, I thought I would give it a whirl. I’m glad I did.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (Hugh Jackman), also known as P.T. Barnum, was the son of a tailor who worked for the Hallett family in the early 1800s. Even though a tailor worked for the higher classes, a tailor and his son were considered low class, which posed a problem for Barnum when he became infatuated with Charity Hallett (Michelle Williams). Still, Barnum never gave up and eventually married Charity, even though he never received the approval of her parents.

Barnum is determined to make something of himself to show the Halletts that he is worthy of their daughter. After losing his job as a shipping clerk he steals the deeds to several sunken ships and uses them as collateral for a loan from the bank. With that money he opens Barnum’s American Museum in Manhattan. He initially showcased various wax models of oddities until he realized that he needed living “freaks” to draw in crowds.

Barnum hires Lettie Lutz, a.k.a the bearded lady (Keala Settle), the diminutive Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), and a pair of trapeze artists that includes Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Barnum re-named the venture Barnum’s Circus and people began flocking to the shows en masse. The shows were soon sold out and Barnum became wealthy and famous. But he was still not accepted by the Hallets or other members of high society.

Barnum thinks he can remedy this situation by hiring famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) for a tour in America. Known as the Swedish Nightingale, Lind is certain to gain Barnum respect from the upper echelon of society.

I was worried about whether I would enjoy the parts of the story being told through song. It turns out that I was worried for no reason. The songs were catchy and, in some instances, they conveyed the emotions of the characters in ways that simple dialog or acting never could. The songs convey the ups and downs of Barnum and the others who orbit him like he was the sun.  The music allows you to become more invested in the movie as it progresses.

When actors turn to song to tell their story there is always a moment just before they begin singing where you may cringe a little. You naturally wonder if they can actually sing. Thankfully, all the actors in “The Greatest Showman” can sing. Of the supporting cast, Keala Settle stood out as a great singer. Loren Allred, singing the part of Jenny Lind for Rebecca Ferguson, also delivered a standout performance with the song “Never Enough.”

But, regardless of the quality of the supporting cast, “The Greatest Showman” would rise or fall based on the quality of the performance by Hugh Jackman. Thankfully, Jackman is one of the elite actors in Hollywood today. He was great in both the speaking and singing parts in the movie. Was Jackman as spectacular here as he was in “Les Miserables?” Maybe not, but it’s still a performance worth seeing.     

While “The Greatest Showman” is based on the life and times of P.T. Barnum, I don’t believe everything in the film is accurate when it comes to the true story of Barnum’s life. From what I have read he wasn’t exactly the sweetheart he is portrayed to be in “The Greatest Showman.” Still, this is a movie that focuses on mostly the positive aspects of his life and is all the better for doing so.

In a world where the box office is dominated by superhero movies and Star Wars sequels and spinoffs (and rightly so), “The Greatest Showman” is a welcome diversion. “The Greatest Showman” is now available for home rental.

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated PG for thematic elements, including a brawl.

Adam’s Apples – Front porches

By James Mack Adams

Looking at all the world’s problems and the constant squabbling among its leaders, I have concluded that what is needed now are more front porches. Forget the diplomats. Cancel the formal meetings. Discard the talking points. Leave the entourage behind. Get the heads of state together on the front porch on a balmy summer evening.  serve them a cold pitcher of lemonade and a plateful of homemade brownies and let them just talk about stuff. It wouldn’t hurt. We’ve tried most everything else. We can call it ‘front-porch diplomacy.’

At the time of this writing, President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un are looking for an appropriate location for their future possible meeting. Perhaps they should consider a front porch.

The front porch is an important slice of Americana. At one time it was considered the family’s outdoor living room. It was where family members gathered after a busy work day to escape the heat of the house and spend some quality time together. While children played in the front yard, adults sat on the porch and discussed family matters. Neighbors walking by were invited to come up on the porch and ‘set’ a spell. The front porch promoted a sense of community, neighborliness, and a chance to commune with Mother Nature.

As a child, one reason I enjoyed visiting my grandparents on Sundays during the summer was the fact they had front porches. The house my paternal grandparents owned near Norton, Virginia, had a wrap-around porch that could seat several people comfortably. A collection of aunts, uncles, and cousins often gathered at my grandparents on Sundays to enjoy a huge home-cooked meal that included more desserts than are on the menu of the average restaurant. Afterwards, everyone gathered on the porch and in the front yard for more family time. It was at such a family gathering on the front porch of an aunt’s house that I had my first, and last, chew of tobacco. Yuck!  Sick, sick, sick! But, that’s another story.

Then everything changed. Television and conditioned air brought the family indoors. Family gatherings on the front porch were replaced by technology. In many newer homes, front porches have been replaced by huge two-car garages that cover at least three quarters of the front of the house. Front porches are now called decks and have been relocated to the side or back of the house. Households have become more isolated. It is not unusual for people to live on a street for years without meeting their neighbors. I have heard people around my age talk about an earlier time when they knew who lived in every house on their street.   

When I returned to my Northeast Tennessee roots and settled in Erwin a few years ago, I was impressed by the variety in the architecture of the houses in town. I was also pleased to see that so many of the homes have front porches. This is such a welcome difference after living parts of my life in cookie-cutter worlds of housing developments, apartments, duplexes, and condos. Once again, I can now enjoy my front porch. That is where I do some of my best thinking.

The word ‘porch’ is said to derive from the Latin word ‘porticus’ and the Greek word ‘Portico.’  Covered and shaded entryways of some sort have been a part of building architecture throughout human history.

It is also written that the decline of the American front porch began in the late 1930s, just preceding World War II. One cause is said to be the automobile. The early autos were notorious for being noisy and for emitting foul-smelling exhaust fumes. That made it less pleasant for some urban dwellers to sit on the front porch at times.

There were other technological and social forces that contributed to the decline of the front porch. We have already mentioned television and air conditioning. Demanding careers and busy lifestyles have taken a bite out of our leisure time and therefore our porch-sitting time. But, take heart dear reader. It is said the front porch is making a comeback. Nostalgia may win out in the end. At least I hope such will be the case.

This column is now ready to file. My work here is done. I think I will retire to my front porch with a cold drink and just ‘set’ for a spell … and think about stuff.

Hood’s Winks – We’ve been cruising

By Ralph Hood

Gail and I have been on a cruise and we want y’all to be impressed!

You should have seen us trying to act like we could afford a trip like that!

Normally, we wouldn’t consider such a trip, but this was a chance to spend a week with our son Kevin, his wife Shirley, and our brilliant, handsome, and lovable grandson—our only grandchild—Rowan. We couldn’t resist.

(BTW—does anyone know a good bankruptcy lawyer?)

The cruise went from Boston to Bermuda—where we stayed about three days—then back to Boston. But first we had to fly to Boston. Why can’t we have cruises on the Tennessee River?

Y’all should have seen our ship, Norwegian Dawn. Here are just a few of her specifications:

She…

Was longer than three football fields

Was 195 feet tall

Used, per day, 52,840 gallons of fuel and 211,000 gallons of water. I still can’t figure out how we could drink water faster than those engines could suck fuel.

In short, it was a mighty big ship.

We ate like pigs at a buffet for breakfast and at fine dining restaurants at lunch and dinner. Amazingly, the price didn’t depend on what you ordered. You could get whatever you wanted! I bet I ate more steak on the cruise than I had during the entire last year.

We saw shows, wandered around Bermuda and generally had a grand time. The ship’s 1,000-plus employees came from more than 60 countries and customer service was unbelievably wonderful.

BTW, I didn’t make a great impression on the ship. The night before we boarded and set sail, I bit into a slice of pizza and broke off not one—but two—teeth right up front. Everybody had to assume that I was a hillbilly redneck with no couth at all! Gail tried to act like she wasn’t with me and had never even met me!

Grandson Rowan was—of course—wonderful. He took part in several onboard programs for kids and even performed on stage in a show by the kids.

One of my great pleasures on ship was watching a ship that was bigger than ours park smoothly at the dock in Bermuda. Awesome! I don’t think anyone else enjoyed that as much as I did. It was akin to watching a great orchestra execute a perfect concert.

All in all, a great experience.

Movie Night – ‘Den of Thieves’ offers action, but fails as heist movie

By Bradley Griffith

It’s been a while since we have seen Gerard Butler on the big screen. He made his return earlier this year in “Den of Thieves,” a film about thieves who are bad guys and cops who are also bad guys. As Gerard’s detective says to one of the criminals in the movie, “You’re not the bad guys, we are.” The movie is now available for home rental.

As the movie opens in the early morning hours in Los Angeles an armored car is making a stop at a donut shop for breakfast when a group of armed robbers attacks. Things go haywire when one of the security guards reaches for his gun. A battle ensues and escalates when LAPD officers arrive on the scene. One of the robbers is shot and killed along with several guards and police officers. The remaining thieves are able to escape with the armored truck.

Detective Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) and his squad from Major Crimes are called to the scene. Nick and his men have been keeping their eye on a local criminal recently released from prison named Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber). Nick knows that Ray and his crew are responsible for the robbery.  What Nick doesn’t understand is why Merrimen would steal an empty armored truck.

Merrimen has his sights set on something much bigger than the robbery of a single armored car.  With the help of his crew, which includes Donnie Wilson (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), Enson Levoux (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), and Bosco Ostroman (Evan Jones), Merrimen wants to rob the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. 

In particular, Merrimen wants to steal $30 million dollars of old cash that is shredded at the Federal Reserve each and every day.  Merrimen believes not only that they can steal the money destined for shredding, but that no one will know that they stole $30 million everyone believes was shredded.

What can I say about “Den of Thieves?” Well, it’s supposed to be a heist movie on steroids, but turns out just being a regular crime movie. The trailers made it appear as if the movie would be action-packed, with some drama thrown in for good measure. Instead, there are some good action scenes, but they are mostly at the beginning and the end, with a lot of down time in between.

The movie starts with a bang, literally. The shootout between armored car guards and a group of thieves intent on hijacking the armored car, no matter how many people they have to kill, is a good scene to kick off the movie. I expected more scenes like this throughout the movie.  Instead, there is a lot of testosterone fueled locker-room banter, but not much action until near the end of the two-hour-and-20-minute film.

What the filmmakers tried to do is combine a macho, adrenaline filled crime movie with a smart caper movie to keep you guessing the entire time. There have been many crime movies and many slick heist movies, but it’s nearly impossible to combine the two. The problem with “Den of Thieves” is that it isn’t smart enough to be the heist movie they wanted and has too little action to be a truly great crime film. The filmmakers would have been better off picking one genre and running with it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are good parts to the movie. The gun battles at the beginning and the end were drawn up well and were very well executed. While he will most likely never win an academy award, Gerard Butler excels in this type of a role and he was perfectly cast as the not-quite-crooked cop who you despise almost as much as you despise the criminals. There’s a nice twist at the end too.

In the end, “Den of Thieves” was good. Not great and not terrible. It suffered from an identity crisis of trying to be both a macho crime movie and a smart heist movie, but could pull off neither.

Grade: B

Rated R for violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity.

Movie Night – ‘Infinity War’ most ambitious movie ever made

By Bradley Griffith

Epic. If I had to describe “Avengers: Infinity War” in one word, it would be epic. “Infinity War” is the culmination of the 18 Marvel movies that came before. Virtually every Marvel superhero is in the movie, and we finally get a battle with the great villain of the Marvel universe, Thanos.

At the end of “Thor: Ragnarok,” Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and the remaining Asgardians were fleeing their destroyed planet in a spaceship. “Infinity War” begins with an attack on this ship by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his cohorts. Thanos is on a mission to find all six infinity stones. He already has two, if he possesses all six he will be unstoppable.

The Hulk is sent to Earth to warn them that Thanos is coming. Along with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Wong (Benedict Wong), Banner tries to stop Thanos’ henchmen from retrieving the Time Stone protected by Dr. Strange.

In Scotland two more of Thanos’ minions attack Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in an attempt to pry the Mind Stone from Vision’s forehead. Before they could get the best of Vision and Wanda, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) come to their rescue.

Across the universe the Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and a teenage Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), respond to a distress call from Thor’s ship. All Thanos left for them to find is debris and a barely-alive Thor.

Somehow these superheroes must come together to stop Thanos before he retrieves every infinity stone. The story leads to a final battle in the Black Panther’s (Chadwick Boseman) home of Wakanda.

“Infinity War” is the action movie to end all action movies. From the opening scene until the credits roll there is non-stop, wall-to-wall action. The battles extend from outer space, to New York, to Thanos’ home planet of Titan, to Wakanda, and more. At each location there are battles and action scenes galore. The fast-paced action causes the movie to fly by, even at a runtime of 2 hours and 29 minutes.

“Infinity War” is the most ambitious superhero movie ever made, and very likely the most ambitious movie of any kind ever made. There are so many characters and separate plots from the previous eighteen movies that it was nearly impossible to bring them all together in one movie in one storyline. But they did. And it was great.

At first, it was strange to see so many superheroes in one movie, much less in the same scene fighting alongside each other. Watching Star-Lord and Spider-Man on the same screen together was unusual, but the filmmakers made it all work seamlessly. From Captain America to Dr. Strange, from Drax the Destroyer to Scarlet Witch, it all fit together just right.

It is a Marvel movie, so there was quite a bit of humor. Even in the middle of battles and at the most inopportune times, the characters are full of witty banter, insults, and comebacks that work together to make the movie more enjoyable. But “Infinity War” was also sad, had unexpected twists, and a surprising ending.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is the superhero movie to end all superhero movies. The movie (and it’s reported budget of up to $300 million) is on a massive scale. It has some of the greatest superhero action scenes in movie history. The grandeur of “Infinity War” makes it the very definition of a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen. I can’t wait for the next Avengers movie next year.

• • •

Grade: A

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language, and some crude references.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Her name, like the town

By Connie Denney

We all need something to look forward to, and May should provide some pretty good possibilities, right? As I write in late April, it’s not all sun and flowers outside.

Take heart! The month of May will be made merrier by the reopening of the Unicoi County Heritage and Clinchfield Railroad Museums, located on the grounds of Erwin National Fish Hatchery, Saturday, May 19. This annual event gets the ball rolling for the season, which extends through October, 1-5 p.m. daily.

Curator Martha Erwin works to ensure there are reasons to visit the site, even if you have been there regularly over the years. This year Saturday, June 2, is a big day. Excitement is in the air as Martha talks about plans for the publisher and editor of “The Jitterbug,” quarterly publication of the Carolina Clinchfield Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society of Bostic, N.C., to be the special guest for the Clinchfield Pride Celebration. Ray Poteat also sings with the Royal Quartet from Forest City, N.C., so there will be music, along with yarn-spinning by railroad men. The Jim Goforth Hall of Fame Award will be presented during the 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. event. A hot dog, chips and drink will be available for $5. 

Martha’s current project is a shed being built to shelter a reproduction of the grill from Clinchfield No. 1, which will then be on display and available for community events. An antique road show and silent auction is on tap for July. It will be a fundraiser, more details to come.

Always looking toward the future, Martha has been involved with the Heritage Museum from its establishment in 1982, first as a volunteer, then as assistant curator before she was named curator. Expansion and improvement have been the theme all along the way, including the Clinchfield Railroad Museum opened in 2011.

Her memories of the place, though, go back to childhood. Church or school picnics were at the Fish Hatchery. She remembers “a few round ponds” built by CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers. At one time a pond held goldfish and one fish was given to each child. With her signature laugh, Martha said she went home with two goldfish, after explaining that she had a brother who couldn’t come.

“Many times during my childhood my eyes would focus on the superintendent’s residence known as Quarters No. 1. The Victorian house had a wrap-around porch that was surrounded by lots of maple trees. Back then it would have been beyond my comprehension to visualize that someday that very house would become our first countywide museum.”

Martha’s devotion to the museums is evidenced in many ways. Her interest in and knowledge of local history is a constant. Certainly, I’ve been known to refer a questioner to her, explaining her name’s Erwin, like the town. It doesn’t have to be a railroad question. That, however, is a topic close to her heart. Understandably so, as her grandfather, father and husband all worked for the railroad.

She’s also known for actually getting things done. Her passion fuels her success. It’s been said of Martha, if she asks you to do something, just go ahead and say “yes.”

Movie Night – ‘Beirut’ is thriller that keeps you guessing

By Bradley Griffith

It’s amazing how many movies are released each year with little to no advertising and no notice of the release outside of the film industry. Many of these films are released straight to video and most of them are so bad they should never have been made in the first place. I saw no advertising for “Beirut,” and it certainly didn’t have any type of marketing campaign. The movie was only released in limited theaters. Despite all that, I am happy to say that “Beirut” bucks the well-established trend and is actually a good movie.

Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) is a United States diplomat living in Beirut, Lebanon in 1972. Skiles is good at his job and loves entertaining representatives from other countries and organizations. He also loves living in Beirut with his wife, Nadia (Leila Bekhti). Together they have begun caring for an orphaned 13-year-old Lebanese boy named Karim (Ider Chender). They want to adopt the boy and raise him as their own.

During one of the many parties Mason and Nadia host at their home for foreign dignitaries, Mason is approached by his best friend, Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino). In addition to being Mason’s best friend, Cal also works for the CIA. He informs Mason that there are several high ranking United States officials who want to speak with him outside his home immediately. They want to question someone at the party. Before a resolution can be reached a gunfight breaks out in the party that results in Nadia’s death.

Ten years later Mason is an arbitrator in the United States. He mostly mediates local labor disputes. He’s also an alcoholic. He has never gotten over the death of his wife and the loss of the life he loved. Mason is convinced to return to Beirut at the thinly-veiled request of the United States government. His cover is as a visiting professor at American University.

In reality, Cal, who remained in Beirut, has been abducted by a terrorist organization. The terrorists specifically asked for Mason Skiles to broker the deal to get Cal back. After working for the CIA for many years Cal has many secrets that can’t ever see the light of day. Mason must work with local CIA field agent Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike) to get Cal back.

I was pleasantly surprised by “Beirut.” The synopsis of the movie that I read sounded intriguing, but with no fanfare as it hit theaters there was cause for concern that it would be a dud. Instead, “Beirut” is a complex adult thriller that keeps you guessing about what or who lurks around every corner. 

Beirut, especially in 1982, is a complicated place with varying loyalties among the many factions in the city. A movie about the city needed to reflect not only the war-torn scenery, but also the shifting allegiances from friend and foe. The movie captured what it must have been like to operate in Beirut in 1982. Mason is pulled in several different directions and doesn’t know who he should trust. All he knows is that he wants to get Cal back in one piece.

Despite the small budget and nonexistent advertising, “Beirut” sports an impressive cast. Jon Hamm is a well-known actor who is good as a washed-up alcoholic who can somehow pull it together when he is needed most. Rosamund Pike of “Gone Girl” fame provides a strong supporting character. One of the greatly underrated actors of our time, Dean Norris, plays Donald Gaines, a State Department official, perfectly. It’s a very well-rounded and impressive cast.

“Beirut” is a good thriller with a well-written plot that is engaging and pulls you into the murky world of Beirut of the 1980s. It deserves a wider release and some actual marketing.

•••

Grade: B+

Rated R for language, some violence, and a brief nude image.

A Refreshing Knapp – What’s happening?

By Ray Knapp

When we read or watch world news on TV it’s obvious that countries around the world are at loggerheads and the threat of a nuclear holocaust looms in the background. Citizens are arming themselves like never before. In 2008 handgun permits were about 1 out of every 32 citizens. Now, it has increased to 1 out of 13, and of course, those that carried a gun in their pocket since they were youngsters, haven’t bothered getting a permit, assuming their right to carry a gun has nothing to do with a piece of paper.

In the midst of all that gloom and doom, here in Unicoi County a lot of good things are Rising up. The Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a 5K race called “Achin for the Bacon” at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 5, followed by a bacon and pancake breakfast.

That same day, a volunteer group called, Rise Erwin, will be holding a Great Outdoors Festival from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in downtown Erwin, with vendors, entertainment, and of course, some outdoor experts to tell about things like Whitewater Rafting, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and if no one else mentions it, there is a beautiful Linear Trail down by I-26, where the 5K race is normally held.

This, Rise Erwin group, are the same ones that sponsored the colorful little elephant sale last year – which proved to be quite a hit and brought in several thousand dollars for the elephant sanctuary over in Hohenwald, Tennesee. I don’t have a date on their next event yet, but it was after the Apple Festival last year.

As a (retired) Weather Forecaster, I will assure you that winter is officially over and we can start doing our spring celebrations. Here in the mountains, winter hangs on till mid-April, and some Old Timers will remind you there was a 6-inch snow on the 17th of May back in the 1930s that killed all the corn and tobacco crops – that’s not happening this year.

May is the month when things really get off with a bang. Other than those things I mentioned, Flag Pond’s Ruritan Club holds its Annual Ramp Festival the second Saturday in May. The 12th of May this year. I take a special delight in that – for one thing, I once helped as a member of their Ruritan Club, but members and visitors alike appreciate the meal of ramps & fried potatoes, soup beans, side-meat, cornbread and of course a few raw ramps to garnish it with; adding something to drink, and desert, is about all anyone can eat . They have entertainment … usually good ole Mountain & Bluegrass music; a clog dancing group or two; a raw ramp eating contest and several other things. Their President, Richard Waldrop, said they would probably have a new pavilion finished out in front of the school just in time for this year’s festival.

On the north end of the County, Unicoi has their Strawberry Festival the third Saturday in May. I like to eat my dessert first, so after two or three varieties of strawberry treats, I don’t have room left for the delicious smelling foods at the other booths. They also have plenty of entertainment and interesting stuff to sell, or just look at. The Appalachian Mountain Rescue Team have rescued injured hikers off the Appalachian Trail and pulled stranded Whitewater rafters from a rain-swollen Nolichucky River. They have quite a bit of rescue equipment on display; among that equipment was an 8-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicle that looked like it could climb over any fallen tree or cross a river. I was quite impressed.

There are other events throughout the summer; the 4th of July Celebrations from one end of the county to the other; the Apple Festival in the fall, and of course that new festival of elephants following that.

No place in the world is idyllic; life has its troubles here as well as anywhere, we don’t just live here for the scenery and festivals, we argue over taxes, politics and other things, but most agree when we hear people say: Now this is what I call God’s own country.

Movie Night – ‘A Quiet Place’ unlike any movie seen before

By Bradley Griffith

With so many movies released each year it’s difficult to find a movie with any original ideas. At times it seems that every idea has already been taken or used many times before. In the midst of remakes and sequels, “A Quiet Place” is a breath of fresh air and has managed to take the top spot at the box office two weeks in a row.

In the year 2020 most of humanity has been wiped out by unknown creatures. The creatures are blind. They hunt with incredibly sensitive hearing and astonishing speed. The creatures are armored, and no one seems to know how to kill them. The survivors live in rural settings in almost complete silence. They must remain silent, or they will quickly be dead.

The Abbott family is one such set of survivors. Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their three children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward), live on a farm in the countryside. They walk everywhere in their bare feet and pour sand walkways so their steps can’t be heard. 

When they need supplies they visit a nearby abandoned town. They eat fish from a nearby river as their main source of food. At night Lee climbs atop a grain silo and lights a fire to alert other groups of survivors that his family survived one more day. Slowly, other fires are lit in the distance to signify other surviving families.

The Abbotts have an advantage over most other survivors. Regan is deaf. Because of this fact the Abbotts know sign language. They communicate almost exclusively using sign language or other hand gestures and, thus, they make almost no sound in their daily existence.

Well over a year into their survival of the creature-created apocalypse the Abbotts have a problem. A big problem. Evelyn is pregnant and is due any day. They must keep Evelyn quiet during labor and the baby quiet after the birth. Both of those seem like insurmountable tasks given the fact that any sound draws the creatures in for the kill.

“A Quiet Place” is a quiet movie. Because they communicate through sign language there is very little dialogue in the movie. It makes “Dunkirk” seem wordy. There are several stretches of five minutes or more where there is absolutely no sound. There’s not even music playing the background. The theater is so quiet you can hear someone munching on popcorn 10 rows away. The silence creates an eerie tension that helps build the suspense as the movie progresses.

John Krasinski (who rose to fame as Jim from “The Office”) is not only one of the stars of the movie, but he also directed and co-wrote the movie. The writing was terrific. Few films will grab you in the first scene the way “A Quiet Place” does. Nothing about the movie is predictable. It grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let up until the end. Speaking of the end, Krasinski knows how to end a movie. The ending is incredibly satisfying and actually puts a smile on your face.

As far as the acting is concerned, while everyone does a great job, there is one standout performance. Emily Blunt (Krasinski’s wife in the movie and in reality) provides what may be the best performance of her career. With each scene you could feel her pain and sense her resolve and endurance. It was a stellar performance by a stellar actor.

Yes, it’s a post-apocalyptic movie. Yes, it’s billed as a horror movie. But it’s unlike any movie you have seen before. The originality, strong writing, and exceptional acting make “A Quiet Place” a can’t-miss movie.

• • •

Grade: A

Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images.

Adam’s Apples – Death and taxes

By James Mack Adams

The time is nigh. Beware the Ides of April. It has been decreed throughout the land that, at that time each year, all income-earning citizens must render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

In more modern language, April is income tax time. This time each year, the Internal Revenue Service instructs us to fill out a bunch of forms and pay up what we might still owe the Feds (Caesar). We are required by law to do so by the middle (Ides) of April. As a point of information, the Ides of April actually falls on the 13th. That is close enough to the IRS deadline of April 15. However, this year’s deadline is Tuesday, April 17. Caesar gave us a couple extra days in which to comply.

Many of us have been rendering unto Caesar on a monthly basis for the past year. With any luck, some of the money we have rendered might be rendered unto us in the form of a refund.

We Americans have been taxed in one form or another throughout most of our history, even before we became Americans. England levied various taxes on its American colonies almost from their beginnings. The mother country looked upon her colonies as a cash cow to help support the vast British empire. The taxes were often oppressive and taxation without representation was one of several complaints that eventually led to the Revolutionary War and American independence.

The Navigation Acts (1651-1696) mandated that certain commodities bound for the colonies had to pass through British ports to be inspected and taxed. You don’t need a course in Economics 101 to assume this would raise prices of the goods to the colonists. It did.

The Stamp Act (1765) required official government stamps to be purchased and placed on all printed materials such as legal documents, newspapers, books, etc. to help cover the cost of protecting the colonies. It was basically protection money.

The Townshend Act (1767) taxed imported glass, lead, paper, and tea. The outrage from colonists caused this legislation to soon be repealed.

The Tea Act (1773) gave the East India Trading Company a complete monopoly on the export/import of tea with the colonies. This act effectively put colonial tea merchants out of business.  The famous Boston Tea Party was a result.

The Whiskey Tax (1791) … oh horror of horrors! First, they tax my tea, now they are coming after my liquor! That tax led to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The revolt turned violent and was primarily on the western frontier where farmers routinely turned their excess crops into distilled liquor. President George Washington suppressed the revolt, but it was almost impossible for the authorities to locate and tax distillers operating in the remote areas.  Reminds us a little of the moonshining trade in these parts. Does it not?

The first income tax levied on Americans was supposed to be temporary. The first known instance of taxing income in this country was in 1862. The purpose of the tax was to help pay for the American Civil War, which was in full swing at that time.

The same year, the office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue was established. That office was charged with overseeing the assessing and collecting of income taxes. The commissioner was also given the authority to seize the assets of persons for nonpayment of assessed taxes. It can be argued that this was the beginning of today’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In 1913, the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution made the income tax permanent. In the years since that time, there have been several changes to the tax code.  One such bill was recently passed by Congress. We can be sure there will be other changes in the future. Another thing is fairly certain. What was originally meant as a temporary tax on our income is here to stay. Caesar will continue to take his cut right off the top.

To paraphrase a quote from Founding Father, Ben Franklin, nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes.

From the Publisher’s Desk – It’s election time: Don’t pack the pillow cases

By Lisa Whaley

“Never discuss religion or politics” is a saying that has been around since 1840, and perhaps it is one my grandparents should have followed around election time.

As different in some ways as night and day, Brownlow and Rosie Morgan, better known as Mommy and Poppy to my mom and her 12 brothers and sisters, were quite a couple. I have been told that Poppy was slender, serious and meticulous. (He died the when I  was just a few years old.)  Mommy was short, a bit more rounded, playful and funny.

More importantly, however, Mommy was a Republican.

Poppy was a Democrat.

Each election season, according to my Aunt Judy, the battle would begin — its culmination the inevitable packing up of important belongings into pillow cases as the entire your Morgan troop, led by their mamma. would set off down the road to stay with a friend.

It was like clockwork, my aunt would share with a grin, settling down after election day, only to flare up again four years later.

Yet through their 50-plus years of marriage, Brownlow and Rosie remained devoted to each other, sharing a connection that was never doubted by any of their children.

They just didn’t agree on politics.

And that was all right — except, of course, when the polls were open.

I think there might be a lesson hidden in that story for all of us as we begin the inevitable march toward election day.

Right now in Unicoi County the signs are all there.  Placards are up, and candidates have been busy knocking on doors.

With the Unicoi County primary set for May 1 and early voting scheduled to begin April 11, there is no time to waste in preparing for the 2018 election season. And definitely, no time for squabbling.

Of course, it is election time and a bit of squabbling is inevitable. It’s almost as much of a time-honored tradition as our wonderful right to vote and be heard.

We just have to keep it in perspective.

Our right to vote provides us with a power that we often forget, and it should never be squandered.

By exercising that right, we are helping to share the direction of our nation.

This power is weakened without wisdom, however, so I encourage you to take the time to research each issue and each candidate before you vote. The Erwin Record is here to help with that and will be providing you with news stories, special sections and more as you navigate through the 2018 election season.

Take the time to dig a little deeper into any issue especially important to you. It’s easy to get caught up in inspiring rhetoric and it’s always exciting to feel you are in the midst of a cause. Just make sure the facts — from both sides — help bolster your position. Weigh your information, occasionally challenge long-held assumptions and constantly confirm the reliability of your sources.

And don’t forget to talk with all those friends, neighbors and associates who may not see things exactly as you do. The strength of our community lies not only in our right to vote as to its direction, but also in our ability to freely discuss our issues with each other — always recognizing that while we may not always agree, we are always family.

Just like Mommy and Poppy.

Movie Night – ‘Wonder’ is heartwarming family film available for rent

By Bradley Griffith

I’m not a fan of feel-good movies in general. That may sound bad, but they are usually so sweet and cuddly that it almost makes me physically ill. So, I wasn’t thrilled to rent “Wonder” to watch at home at my daughter’s recommendation. But I’m glad I did.

August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) just wants to be normal. He wants to be an ordinary kid who does ordinary things like go to school, have friends to play with, and leave his house without a helmet over his head. At home in his sanctuary away from the world, Auggie is treated by his mom, Isabel (Julia Roberts), dad, Nate (Owen Wilson), and sister, Olivia “Via” (Izabela Vidovic), like a normal kid.

Auggie suffers from a genetic disorder known as Treacher Collins Syndrome. The condition is characterized by deformities of the ears, eyes, cheekbones, and chin. Auggie has undergone 27 surgeries to help him with a variety of issues caused by his disorder. He has had surgeries that range from helping him breathe to plastic surgery. Because of his health issues, Auggie had been homeschooled by his mom. But as Auggie approaches middle-school age his parents think it’s time to enroll him in school.

Middle school is not easy for most kids, so you can imagine how difficult it is for Auggie. Everyone stares at him and no one wants to be his friend. In fact, no one wants to talk to him or even touch him. The students are fond of saying that whoever touches Auggie has the plague.  It’s no surprise that Auggie hates school, at first. 

Auggie makes a friend in Jack Will (Noah Jupe). Jack even comes to Auggie’s home to play and just be a kid, something that Auggie has never experienced. Just as things start to look up for Auggie as he actually made a friend, everything falls apart again for him.

But the Pullman’s have another child too. Via is also starting a new school. She’s a freshman in high school and her best friend will no longer speak to her. Isabel and Nate focus so much on Auggie that, at least in Via’s eyes, they don’t really care about her life.

“Wonder” is a movie largely about Auggie trying to fit in at school and be treated like everyone else. But maybe the best thing about the movie is that it tells the story from many different perspectives. There’s Auggie, of course. But the movie is also told through the eyes of Via, Jack, and Via’s (former) best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Auggie has an effect on all of these people and it’s interesting to see part of the story told by them from their perspective.  Auggie is not the only one with problems.

The story of the adults is also interesting. Isabel put her entire life on hold for Auggie. Now that Auggie is in school maybe she can get back some of her own identity. Nate feels like it’s his job to always keep everyone happy and laughing. Auggie’s homeroom teacher and principal are great at their jobs and are great examples of how people in their positions can affect the lives of children.

All the actors do a great job. There’s not a poor performance in the movie, which is pretty amazing given the difficult subject matter and the fact that many of the actors are children. The writers also told the story well by sporadically injecting humor and light-hearted scenes throughout the movie.

At its core, “Wonder” is a movie about family. Even though Auggie has many challenges that most people don’t have, Auggie has one great advantage: his family. The Pullmans are what a family should be, and they support and love Auggie like every kid deserves.

Like I said, I didn’t really want to watch this movie, but I’m glad I did. It’s a genuinely heartwarming movie that shows us how families can overcome even the most difficult of obstacles. It’s a family movie that about real issues that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

Grade: A-

Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying and some mild language.

Hood’s Winks – One of a kind

By Ralph Hood

Anytime you get to feeling that teachers “don’t get no respect,” you should Google one name—Dr. Hugh Macaulay—just to see how very respected a good teacher can be. He was one of the best teachers I ever met, and was living proof that a good teacher does make a difference and is never forgotten.

Dr. Macaulay taught economics when I was at Clemson University more than 4 decades ago. He went on to become a Who’s Who economist and author. He held administrative positions at Clemson and the U.S. Treasury Department but, above all else, he is remembered as a teacher. I stayed in touch with him until he died in 1986. I called him when I had an economics question that confused me. Each time I wrote something about economics I sent it to him first, to see if I got it right.

Dr. Macaulay was not imposing in appearance—he looked like Orville Redenbacher, the popcorn king—but his smile, his attitude toward life and other people, his brain, and his constant quest for knowledge made him a giant of a man. His real legacy was generations of fine students throughout the world.

Dr. Macaulay wore a leg brace. We always assumed he was a polio victim, but I learned years later that he was shot in France in World War II. He had a zest for life that made him hard to keep up with as he walked around campus like a man in a hurry, which he usually was.

I was not by anyone’s measure a stellar student, but Dr. Macaulay brought out the best in me. During the first course I ever took under him, he put a problem on the board and announced that anyone who could solve the problem earned an A for the course and could skip all future classes. That motivated me. I worked on that problem. I stopped by his office to discuss it. I took it home for the Christmas holidays, worked on it, and discussed it with friends, all to no avail. I simply couldn’t find the solution.

After the holidays I headed straight for Macaulay’s office. “I give up,” I told him. “What is the answer?” Dr. Macaulay looked at me almost sadly and said, “Nobody knows.” I was upset. “Why,” I asked, “did you let me work on that so hard if nobody knows the answer.” He looked me straight in the eye and said, simply, “I thought maybe you would be the person who figured it out.”

Ah, folks, you can really love a teacher like that, be s/he teaching supply and demand or airspace!

Shortly after graduating from Clemson, while I was working in sales with Procter & Gamble, I ran into Dr. Macaulay at a funeral. There were a thousand things I wanted to ask him, so I headed his way after the service. He met me half way, and before I could get in a word, he asked in his excited, enthusiastic way, “What should we be teaching people to help them work for a company like Procter & Gamble?” Macaulay never quit learning, never quit asking, and never quit teaching.

Teachers are among life’s important people. Dr. Macaulay was among the best of teachers.

Movie Night – ‘Darkest Hour’ tells story of Churchill’s political drama

By Bradley Griffith

Newly released for home rental, “Darkest Hour” tells the story of what happened behind the scenes in the British government when Winston Churchill was elevated to the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. Even though it was nominated for many Academy Awards, it’s not one of the best movies of last year, but it is worth renting at home.

The movie opens on May 9, 1940. The Nazis have conquered virtually all of Europe. Due to his weak leadership in the face of the Nazi campaign, the British Parliament has lost all faith in the leadership of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup). Even though a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Chamberlain does not pass, the powers that be recognize that Chamberlain must resign his post and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) must appoint a new prime minister. Chamberlain wants the post to go to Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane), but Lord Halifax says he is not ready to be Prime Minister.

The only other person in the Conservative Party that would be supported by the Labour Party was an unpopular man by the name of Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). Against his better judgment, King George appoints Churchill to be the new Prime Minister. Few people even in his own party are happy with the appointment of Churchill.

Churchill immediately convenes a War Cabinet to devise a strategy to combat the Nazis. Included on the War Cabinet specifically because they disagree with Churchill are Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. Churchill quickly learns that the entirety of the British Army, over 300,000 soldiers, have been pushed back to the sea in France at the town of Dunkirk. The soldiers are trapped with no way to make it home and the German hordes closing in around them.

Churchill is convinced that the only way to deal with the Nazis is to fight them. Chamberlain and Halifax believe that they must seek to negotiate terms of peace with the Nazis. The bulk of the movie deals with whether Churchill should attempt to negotiate peace with Hitler or continue to fight against overwhelming odds and risk the total destruction of England.

“Darkest Hour” is largely about the backroom politics in England during the several weeks after Churchill was appointment Prime Minister. The movie made it appear that the politicians were too busy fighting amongst each other to wage any type of war on Germany or even devise a strategy to rescue the army from Dunkirk. It was only when Churchill sought the advice of the citizens of England that his belief in the free world was restored.

Gary Oldman did a good job as Churchill. The makeup required to transform him into Winston Churchill was astonishing and flawless. The makeup was so well done that it was impossible to recognize Oldman behind the movie magic. Still, the most interesting character in the movie was Clemmie Churchill, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. While Churchill propped up the nation, Clemmie propped up Churchill and proved the old adage that behind every good man is a great woman.

One thing to keep in mind when deciding whether to rent “Darkest Hour” is that, even though it takes place during World War II, it is not a war movie. In fact, there is no action at all. It’s about the political drama and how Churchill shepherded the entire free world through this pivotal moment in the history of mankind. While that sounds heavy, there are lighter, tongue-in-cheek moments that periodically brighten the mood.

“Darkest Hour” takes place in what could arguably be considered the most pivotal point in the history of the British Empire. There was considerable pressure placed on Churchill to negotiate peace with the Nazis. Churchill believed that there could be no peace with such monsters. History shows that Churchill was correct.

•••

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for some thematic material.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Ventriloquist speaks for herself

By Connie Denney

“I really believe that life is the journey, not the destination. What a joy to be part of what God is doing. He’s proven to me over and over that He is faithful and has taken care of me all of my days.”

What a confirmation of faith to reflect on during Easter season! The quote is from Judy Smith, who has traveled to five Olympics sites to share the Gospel and is looking forward to Tokyo, Japan in 2020! That will be a benchmark year for her, as she will turn 70 and plans to retire. Hopefully, she will extend that trip to include a visit to Hokkaido, where she lived and worked for 17 years.

But ventures and adventures related to Olympic Games are not all that led her to such a statement of faith. A former missionary, she is a professional ventriloquist with a ministry to kids.  (I, personally, can say that kids are not the only ones who enjoy her inspirational and entertaining performances.)

Judy has traveled as a consultant for a publishing company, taught a course in ventriloquism, taught teenage girls living skills. She was a school teacher or substitute in three states. She was a licensed real estate agent and broker. And, oh yes, she spent time in cotton fields as a boll weevil inspector!

Korner Kids ‘n Company is the children’s ministry Judy began when she returned to the U.S. in 1991, after serving 17 years in Japan as a missionary with Free Will Baptists International Missions. In Sapporo she had taken a ventriloquism course from the head of the Japanese Ventriloquist Association. He was a friend of Edgar Bergman and took an interest in her because she was American. She continued monthly studies with a “vent group.”

Once she knew this was what she wanted to do and could do, she went to a shop near Tokyo that made ventriloquial or vent figures (they are not dummies). She explains that she “picked out the cutest little head and purchased the body shape.” When the box arrived at her house a few weeks later, she stuffed his legs and arms with cotton and outfitted him with clothes. She named him Ken-Chan, K.C. for short, “easier for Americans to remember.”

After a few years back in the U.S., it was the end of her second summer as a boll weevil inspector for the University of North Carolina, “exhausting and extremely hot,” work that “paid well, but was not what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life.” Judy felt the Lord telling her to look at the fields that day. Laughing to herself, she said, “’But Lord, I see these fields every day.’  But that day, as I drove through the fields, I noticed some were harvested, some were cleared and ready to be replanted, some had been halfway harvested, and some had yet to be touched. The Lord used this to remind me that there was still work for me to do as a missionary and that He was releasing me to go back out into ministry for Him.”

She tells of a particular tour through South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and back to North Carolina, where she lived at the time. She left with a tank full of gas and $20. Stops along the way led to other contacts and support. After that trip she began contacting friends and churches, advertising and booking vacation bible schools, church services, and camps from North Carolina to Texas and Oklahoma.

There had also been talk of Action Ministries (now International Sports Chaplains) and the Nagano, Japan Winter Olympics in 1998. Judy went and since then has gone as a part of the team to Beijing, China, 2008; Vancouver, Canada, 2010; London, England, 2012; Rio, Brazil, 2016. This year she watched the Olympics, held in South Korea, every day on television, but says, “it’s just not the same.”   

Judy spoke with me recently from her home area of East Texas, where she moved several years ago and where her two sisters helped her build her “barn house.”  She works as a field supervisor for a home health services company, covering three counties where attendants work for around 200 clients.

Meanwhile, she’s looking into teaching English online to Chinese children when she retires.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Spring brings with it promise of rebirth

By Lisa Whaley

Spring is upon us.

All around us, despite our surprising March snowfall, we can still see the beginning of a new season — one already filled with the hints of vibrant forsythia, colorful red buds and sunny daffodils.

The sun feels warmer. Our days seem more hopeful. Our loads feel a little lighter.

And this Sunday, in a Tennessee tradition older than the deep roots found within Unicoi County,  men, women and children will gather together at their local churches and in their homes to celebrate another re-birth so aptly illustrated in this season’s blooms.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Matthew 28:1-6

These verses  and others like them have been read in churches — both those still standing and others that are now simply a memory — since pioneers first came over the mountains into the Valley Beautiful,  commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls.

This Sunday, the celebration continues.

True, today’s gatherings may be a bit more colorful than in years past -— with brightly decorated Easter get-togethers and baskets of eggs in a rainbow of hues..

But in many ways, the core of the celebration has stayed the same. Once again, early on Sunday, families will don their finest and travel to local Sunrise services. They will attend Easter breakfasts, sing Easter-themed songs, and soak in uplifting cantatas and sermons.

They will walk along the sidewalks of Main Street in Erwin or travel along winding country roads near Flag Pond, Unicoi, Coffee Ridge and Bumpass Cove to reach church buildings small and large — buildings filled with family . . .  and friends who are just like family.

And in the end, they will join hands in hope and celebration along church pews or around the dinner table.

It is this hope and this promise that is perhaps the best and longest-lasting tradition in Erwin’s Easter celebrations.

After a gray, cold winter, it is the hope of warmer days ahead. As family and friends stand hand in hand, it is the hope of a lightened load with shared sorrows, and a more abundant shared joy.

And as deadened branches burst into bloom, it is the hope of a rebirth.

Happy Easter to all of our readers at The Erwin Record. May this Sunday’s rising sun bring to each of you the hope that has long been promised.

Movie Night – New ‘Tomb Raider’ offers constant action, adventure

By Bradley Griffith

I love the Indiana Jones movies. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” may be the best movie ever made. At a minimum, it’s in the top 10 movies ever. So, I had high hopes for the new “Tomb Raider” reboot, only to have them squandered. Alicia Vikander does a good job as the title character, but the movie doesn’t come close to measuring up to the Indiana Jones movies.

Lara Croft (Vikander) is the daughter of Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), the wealthy owner of one of England’s largest corporations. Lara and Richard live on a vast estate in the countryside. When Richard doesn’t return from one of his many business trips abroad Lara is crushed. Her world would never be the same again.

Seven years later Lara makes a living as a bike messenger in downtown London, living in a rundown building. She spends her time learning to fight like an MMA fighter and pining over her lost father. After seven years she refuses to admit that he is dead and refuses to sign the papers declaring him deceased, even though such a declaration would mean she would receive tens of millions of dollars as her inheritance.

After being arrested for crashing into a police car on her bicycle during a race. Lara is bailed out by her father’s friend and Lara’s former guardian, Ana Miller (Kristen Scott Thomas). Faced with the prospect of selling off her family estate if she doesn’t claim her inheritance, Lara reluctantly agrees to declare her father deceased.

And that is when the story gets a little interesting. Through a clue and a key left to her by her father on his death, Lara finds the true reason for her father’s many trips abroad. He was an amateur archaeologist. He was searching for a mysterious island off the coast of Japan that was rumored to hold the remains of Himiko, a mythical Japanese sorceress queen. Lara decides to find this island for herself, even though her father made it clear that he wanted all of his research on the subject burned.

The best thing about “Tomb Raider” is the action and adventure that is constant by the time Lara makes it to the island. It’s not just about gunfights or hand-to-hand combat, but about ancient curses and booby traps meant to deter all future explorers. You don’t need to think too hard (or at all) about what she’s doing or you won’t enjoy the completely unbelievable plot and action.

Alicia Vikander is head and shoulders above Angelina Jolie in the same role. Vikander’s Lara Croft is more like an actual person that the unbelievably impervious super warrior that was Jolie’s character. Vikander plays the role with at least a little common sense involved. Also, there’s no love interest in the movie so Vikander doesn’t have to worry about being betrayed by someone she loves and relies on her own skill and grit to save the day rather than her feminine wiles.

The problem with “Tomb Raider” is that it is totally lacking in originality. The writers borrowed far too many scenes and ideas from Indiana Jones. To reach the tomb of Himiko, Lara must pass three challenges, just like Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade.” The challenges involve crossing a seemingly bottomless chasm with no way to bridge the gap and fake floor tiles that fall away into a bottomless pit with each wrong step, very similar to the challenges the Indy faced in “The Last Crusade.”

In “Raiders of the Lost Ark” the floor was booby trapped with death coming each time a trap was sprung. “Tomb Raider” had very similar traps on the path to the treasure. When they finally reach the crypt of Himiko they open the sarcophagus with baited breath, much like the opening of the ark at the end of “Raiders.” It was all a little too familiar.

While Alicia Vikander performed well in the title role and there were some good adventure scenes, the movie was too derivative of Indiana Jones and other movies to the point that “Tomb Raider” became very predictable.

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Grade: B-

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language.