From the Publisher’s Desk – Warm memories take chill out of weather

By Lisa Whaley

“Baby, it’s cold outside.”

As arctic air swept through Northeast Tennessee this past week, along with a promise of freezing rain Monday, I couldn’t help but look at my daughter with a bit of envy as she snuggled deeper under the covers — a beneficiary of another school snow day.

She is lucky, but at 17 and ready to graduate from high school this year, I know these snow days will soon become a thing of the past.

As adults, filled with all our responsibilities, snow and subsequent bad weather rarely means good times. We, instead, must face disrupted schedules, scary journeys on ice and busted pipes. Firefighters and first responders are required to rush to a need no matter what the adverse conditions. And police officers never get to take a day off simply because it’s too “wintery.”

Still, I don’t think we ever quite lose that idea of snow magic established in our memories when we were young.

My favorite memory involves a particularly nasty storm when I was about 13 years old. Angry gray clouds had pummeled my small town with torrents of freezing rain followed by deep snow. Limbs cracked and fell. And winds continued to blow fiercely, making temperatures even colder still.

There were four of us —  my mom, my dad, my little brother and myself — and as temperatures dropped, we decided to bundle ourselves up and head for the garage.

You see, our garage was separate from the house and had within it an old barrel stove.

We built a fire. Mom cooked a pot of beans on the top of the stove, and we told stories to pass the time. No TV. No radio. Just the warmth of each other.

This is a memory I  treasure every time the snow flies. There were, of course, many other such memories, both from when I was young and when I had young ones of my own. I hope my girls remember their stories as fondly.

But as I thought back through my “tales of winter weather,” I realized these had much more in common than dropping temperatures. Each, like the story of one winter around a barrel stove, featured family together, safe despite the storm.

My wish for all of you for this cold weather season of 2018 is a winter with family, together and safe despite the storm.

Hood’s Winks – Where did the time go?

By Ralph Hood

I have no trouble accepting yet another new year. What bothers me is that we are now 17 years into this new millennium. That horrifies me! I can remember when it seemed we would never get into this millennium!

I still haven’t accepted the idea of 1984 being in the past, rather than the far distant future as it was when I first read the book.

When I was born in 1941:

Push-button phones were nonexistent. Most of the world had dial phones, but not where I grew up. We had—and did have for years thereafter—the old system wherein you picked up the phone and told the operator (“Central,” we called her) what number you wanted.

Pocket calculators were not on the scene and wouldn’t be for another 30 years or so. I saw my first one some 30 years later.

Television didn’t exist, even in black and white.

Polio did exist and was serious.

Model A Fords still existed in great numbers, not as antiques, but as transportation.

Women’s hose—hose, not nylons—still had seams.

There were—believe it or not—no fast food restaurants. No motels, either, but there were a lot of “tourist homes.” Some were nice, some were not, and the smart traveler looked at the room before paying.

There were no “800” numbers.

The train station was as important then as the airport is now. Prosperity was one car per family, rather than one per family member.

Smoking cigarettes was “cool.” All the movie stars did it. Nobody told kids not to smoke; they just said, “Don’t smoke ‘til you’re 21; it’ll stunt your growth.”

It was still considered proper to pray in school, before football games, and at meals. (On the other hand, racial segregation was considered proper, too.) Oddly enough, in spite of the dominance of religion in everyday life, the words “under God” were not yet included in the Pledge of Allegiance and wouldn’t be for another decade or so.

There were no cassette tapes and no CDs. Music was recorded on huge black records made of glass. Drop one, and it shattered. “Hi fidelity” (much less stereo) wouldn’t be around for years.

There were no tubeless tires, instant replays, cake mixes, microwaves, junk bonds, or frozen foods.

We believed stability was normal. Now we know that change—ever-quickening change—is normal.

When I consider the awesomeness of it all, and my insignificant role, I realize the world doesn’t need a set of New Year’s Resolutions on my part. So I didn’t make any.

Movie Night – ‘All the Money in the World’ based on actual kidnapping

By Bradley Griffith

It’s virtually unheard of that a movie replaces one of the main actors after the movie is completed.  It’s even more unusual that the substitute actor is chosen, scenes are re-shot, and the movie still opens in theaters on its original premiere date. Maybe the most amazing thing about this whole scenario is that “All the Money in the World” turned out to be a very good movie.

In Rome, Italy 16-year-old Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped. He was alone, walking the streets of Rome without a care in the world. What would he have to care about, he was the grandson of J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), founder of Getty Oil and the richest man in the world. Not only that, but J. Paul Getty was, at the time, the richest man the world had ever seen.

Paul was kidnapped for one reason only: money. The kidnappers called Paul’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), and demanded $17 million for the safe return of Paul. Gail informed them that she had no money. She had previously been married to Getty’s son, John Paul Getty, II (Andrew Buchan). In the divorce Gail asked for no money for herself. She only wanted full custody of the children and child support for them. She didn’t have millions of dollars to give.

When Gail told the kidnappers that she had no money their response was that she should ask her former father-in-law, he has all the money in the world. The kidnappers believed that Getty would pay handsomely and quickly for the return of his grandson who shared his name. They were wrong. Despite many desperate pleas from Gail, Getty refused to pay the $17 million ransom. When asked by a reporter how much he would pay, he replied “nothing.”

Instead, Getty sent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a Getty Oil negotiator and former CIA operative, to investigate the case and do whatever he could to ensure the release of young Paul. Fletcher and Gail must work together to get Paul back safely in spite of Getty.

“All the Money in the World” is based on the true story of Paul Getty’s kidnapping in Rome in 1973. I can’t say how much of the plot of the movie is true, but if even a small portion of the movie is accurate then J. Paul Getty was one of the meanest and most miserly men who ever lived. He refused to pay what was, for him, pocket change to secure the release of his grandson. He even had a special relationship with Paul that went as far as Paul being his favorite grandson.

Still, Getty refused. In fact, he even refused to meet with Gail to discuss the matter. He sent Fletcher Chase instead. The movie makes it seem that truly the only thing that Getty cared about was money. In the movie a reporter asks him if he is a billionaire and his response was that if you can count your money you are not a billionaire. He seemed to take pride in his greed and is portrayed as a truly despicable person, maybe even worse than the kidnappers.

Having said all that, Christopher Plummer was extraordinary as Getty. Only a truly special performance could cause such emotions about a character on a screen as you just read in the preceding two paragraphs. He was great at making you hate him and all he stood for. By all accounts Plummer himself is a wonderful person, which makes his performance even more astounding.

Perhaps the most surprising facet of “All the Money in the World” is that the entire movie was shot, edited, and completed with Kevin Spacey as Getty before many allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against him. Director Ridley Scott made the decision to remove Spacey completely from the movie and reshoot all scenes that included Spacey. Not only did he pull off this feat beginning only one month before the film’s release, but I dare say that the movie is better for Plummer’s substitution.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated R for language, some violence, disturbing images, and brief drug content.

Movie Night – New ‘Jumanji’ filled with adventure, laughs

By Bradley Griffith

It was one of those 50s days in December, which I suspect is pretty good weather for cutting trees. It’s time had come, no doubt about that. Such a once-strong giant that can no longer hold up its own arms can do damage, especially when the wind gets fierce. The big tree stood alongside homes filled with people and stretched above Clinchfield Avenue, where cars carry people, not to mention the people who love to walk and run on the sidewalks. 

Still, it lived here long before I came and I will miss it, as will squirrels and birds. Such a huge tree must have lots of rings, right? But, they were spaced much too tightly to count. That and its sheer size speak to its age.

Wondering who might have planted it and how the particular type of maple was chosen, I remember the appeal of Erwin’s residential areas I enjoyed even before living here. Traveling along Ohio Avenue, I realized those interesting houses were no accident. The Holston Place cul-de-sac I’ve heard called “the horseshoe” is a lovely display of styles of houses. 

Just as planting that maple tree was planned, those homes we refer to as “pottery houses” were planned, as was the area surrounding them.

The late James Goforth wrote in an article published in The Erwin Record June 13, 2001, about the Holston Corp., a subsidiary of the Clinchfield Railroad, commissioning a New York architect in 1916 to plan a model residential community here.  Goforth defined the area as lying between Clinchfield Avenue and Okolona Drive and extending from Love Street to Martin Creek.  He wrote further about houses built in a portion of the area to house employees of Southern Pottery, which moved here from Ohio.

Erwin is also included in a coffee table-size book titled “The Architecture of Grosvenor Atterbury,” which is available for reading in the History Room of Unicoi County Public Library, but may not be checked out. It tells about Atterbury’s work, from grand mansions to summer cottages, to community planning projects and industry-related housing.  It includes many photographs and drawings and tells how he came to be involved in the Erwin project.

According to the book by Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker, by June 1918 the railroad had built 45 of the houses along Ohio Avenue and Unaka Way in what was referred to as “section A.”  They note that “as the railroad’s financial condition steadily declined during the war, the Holston Corp. terminated its building program.”

The book allows us to see the general plan for the development, as well as designs for the houses, floor plans, even designs for cuts in shutter panels. Those include cat, windmill, bird and rabbit silhouettes.

But, back to that tree. A community’s trees serve in many ways. I think of this one as providing simple beauty and shading sidewalks and porches, as well as folks who walked and played nearby. Its contribution continues, as it provides fuel for warmth in a home during the cold, cold winter days following the 50-degree weather we enjoyed in December.

May we all welcome 2018 with an appreciation for the good fortune that allows us to anticipate what’s ahead with an attitude of gratitude.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Welcome 2018 with gratitude

By Connie Denney

It was one of those 50s days in December, which I suspect is pretty good weather for cutting trees. It’s time had come, no doubt about that. Such a once-strong giant that can no longer hold up its own arms can do damage, especially when the wind gets fierce. The big tree stood alongside homes filled with people and stretched above Clinchfield Avenue, where cars carry people, not to mention the people who love to walk and run on the sidewalks. 

Still, it lived here long before I came and I will miss it, as will squirrels and birds. Such a huge tree must have lots of rings, right? But, they were spaced much too tightly to count. That and its sheer size speak to its age.

Wondering who might have planted it and how the particular type of maple was chosen, I remember the appeal of Erwin’s residential areas I enjoyed even before living here. Traveling along Ohio Avenue, I realized those interesting houses were no accident. The Holston Place cul-de-sac I’ve heard called “the horseshoe” is a lovely display of styles of houses. 

Just as planting that maple tree was planned, those homes we refer to as “pottery houses” were planned, as was the area surrounding them.

The late James Goforth wrote in an article published in The Erwin Record June 13, 2001, about the Holston Corp., a subsidiary of the Clinchfield Railroad, commissioning a New York architect in 1916 to plan a model residential community here.  Goforth defined the area as lying between Clinchfield Avenue and Okolona Drive and extending from Love Street to Martin Creek.  He wrote further about houses built in a portion of the area to house employees of Southern Pottery, which moved here from Ohio.

Erwin is also included in a coffee table-size book titled “The Architecture of Grosvenor Atterbury,” which is available for reading in the History Room of Unicoi County Public Library, but may not be checked out. It tells about Atterbury’s work, from grand mansions to summer cottages, to community planning projects and industry-related housing.  It includes many photographs and drawings and tells how he came to be involved in the Erwin project.

According to the book by Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker, by June 1918 the railroad had built 45 of the houses along Ohio Avenue and Unaka Way in what was referred to as “section A.”  They note that “as the railroad’s financial condition steadily declined during the war, the Holston Corp. terminated its building program.”

The book allows us to see the general plan for the development, as well as designs for the houses, floor plans, even designs for cuts in shutter panels. Those include cat, windmill, bird and rabbit silhouettes.

But, back to that tree. A community’s trees serve in many ways. I think of this one as providing simple beauty and shading sidewalks and porches, as well as folks who walked and played nearby. Its contribution continues, as it provides fuel for warmth in a home during the cold, cold winter days following the 50-degree weather we enjoyed in December.

May we all welcome 2018 with an appreciation for the good fortune that allows us to anticipate what’s ahead with an attitude of gratitude.

From the Publisher’s Desk – New Year’s resolutions offer time for reflection

By Lisa Whaley

In just a few days, Unicoi County will be ringing in a brand-new year with all its hopes and promises.

As a community, there is a lot on the horizon: new church buildings going up, a new hospital to open and the excitement of new businesses or business opportunities as 2017 turns into 2018.

But as always, when it comes down to what will or will not happen in 2018, it really lies in the hands of each man, woman and child within each community.

And that’s where, I believe, the much-maligned New Year’s Resolution list comes into play.

Though many dread “the list,” I actually love this time of year, presented like the proverbial clean slate, all clean and shiny and ready for a fresh start.

True, I’ve had my share of crazy resolutions; ones that promised to turn me into a thinner, healthier, much more organized person for the coming year, along with an impossible-to-meet list of expectations.

Instead, I think the secret to a successful list may be to turn our eyes outward. No more “I will be perfect in 2018.” Instead, let’s look to our community, friends and neighbors for that glimpse of perfection.

With that in mind, here is my recommended New Year’s Resolution List for 2018.

Try to visit one locally owned business each week. A healthy community requires a thriving collection of local stores, shops and services. Extra points if the local business you try is also a new business.

Support one local fund-raiser, service or non-profit each month. The Unicoi County Animal Shelter and the Kiwanis Club of Erwin, as well as school projects and fundraisers, are just a few examples. Remember, the amount is not nearly as important as the act. If you just have $1 or $2 to give, that is still a generous gift.

Attend at least one local event, preferably each month or so. This one can be a little tougher, depending on the size of the event. But when you look at the commitment exhibited behind the scenes to put on such treasures as “Patriot Day Tribute,” “Unicoi County Apple Festival,” “Erwin Elephant Revival,” it’s a small price to pay to take part in the joy. School and church productions certainly count, as well as open houses and club events.

Get involved. The best towns have citizens that don’t just watch on the sidelines. In Erwin and Unicoi County, there is a group for almost every interest or cause. Love Blue Ridge Pottery? There is a club for that. Treasure local history? There is a club for that. Looking to volunteer your talents? There are so many groups who would be thrilled to hear from you. Once again, every little bit helps.

Treasure your town. Like counting blessings before you go to sleep, try to note one thing each week that you find special about living and working in the towns of Erwin, Unicoi or within the county.

I think you’ll be surprised at how often you come up with things and how long that list can be. As I look back to my first few months in Erwin, I know one of the things I will continually take note of is the warmth and kindness with which you have always greeted me. You have made me feel welcome.

And, as I move ahead into the New Year, I will be posting this list near my desk as 2018’s resolutions.

I know I want to be part of everything that goes on here.

A Refreshing Knapp – What happens after Christmas?

By Ray Knapp

In the United States, Christmas is easily the most popular holiday of the year. The Christmas Season actually starts with the first Sunday of Advent (03 Dec. this year) – not the day after Halloween, as merchants would have you believe – and ends NOT on Christmas Day, but on the 12th day after Christmas, known as the Epiphany, celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory occurred with the Wise Men leaving Bethlehem and spreading the word of the Messiah’s birth.

When my father was a little boy, his grandfather would tell him stories of Christmas when he was a child and except for presents and merchants’ advertisements, wasn’t much different than it is today, even though that was long ago. Dad’s grandfather was born in 1829, so that was long ago. ‘Born in Ohio, near the Ohio River across from West Virginia, (which broke away from Virginia as the 35th state on June 20, 1863 (due in a large part to the Civil War) great-grandpa wound up in the 2nd West Virginia Cavalry and told Dad about those days fighting under the command of General George Armstrong Custer. Some of the battles were not exactly battles but a claiming of territory as Slave owners fled from the Union Army leaving their homes and slaves. Great grandpa talked with some of those slaves and they told of the Christmases they had. Their Master would allow them time off, except for the household staff, as long as the “Back fireplace log lasted.” According to what the slaves told him, they would get the biggest, knottiest log that would fit in the fireplace and soak it in a pond for 3 or 4 months before Christmas. Placed at the back of the fireplace on Christmas Day, it would generally last a week or more.

The days after Christmas then, and now, is notoriously a time for nostalgia and many old recollections and sympathies of Christmas time awaken within us. In those olden days of my great grandfather, and in fact, even in the days of my youth, festivities were centered on the home, the family and the indulgence of children.  And now, in many homes, the hearth or fireside has disappeared and computer games have replaced the railway set as presents. This is not quite the same, and we still attempt to recapture the elusive traditional Christmas we once knew. All these feelings and emotions seem to come after the Christmas feast and festivities leaving many with a feeling of loneliness and emptiness. Surprisingly there is a decrease in suicides during this stressful time except New Year’s Day. Some researchers believe the jump occurs because New Year’s Day is the end of holiday season, and people get depressed at the prospect of returning to work and everyday life.

Not that I ever came to thinking about suicide, but I often had regrets in January as the bills for Christmas presents, charged to my credit card, were now due. I’m past that stage now, however many people are not, and though they know better, are somehow coerced into spending more than they should.

My children didn’t know, or at least they didn’t care that the 12 days after Christmas represents the true end-point of the Christmas season, nor, Epiphany sends Christians into the world to live out the Incarnation, to witness to the light of Christ in the darkness. They did, however, know all the words to the song about the 12 days of Christmas and about drove me batty singing about a Partridge in a pear tree; 12 lords a leaping; maids milking, and on and on.

But being about driven batty by their singing, I miss that – and their squabbles during Christmas vacation from school. Like they say, or at least I heard it somewhere: “Having a place to go – is a home. Having someone to love – is a family. Having both – is a blessing. “

May God bless and keep you during the coming year.

Movie Night – Reviewer chooses best movies of year

By Bradley Griffith

• “Wind River” – If you’re looking for an excellent adult drama with a real story, great characters, and amazing vistas of the Wyoming wilds in winter, look no further than “Wind River.” Jeremy Renner is spectacular as the main character with a great supporting cast. The movie may not have cleaned up at the box office, but “Wind River” is easily the best movie of the year.

• “Wonder Woman” – Speaking of cleaning up at the box office, “Wonder Woman” raked in its fair share of money and then some, and deserved every penny. The film is an example of great movie-making. The filmmakers blended a great story with great action scenes. Gal Gadot was amazing in the title role. She was tough, sensitive, strong, and understanding at the same time. She was born to play Wonder Woman.

“Dunkirk” – The best movie of the year with the least amount of dialogue, “Dunkirk” told the story of the evacuation of almost 400,000 British soldiers in World War II mostly by the actions of each of the main characters. Using three differing points of view of the evacuation and weaving those separate stories together into a seamless conclusion, director Christopher Nolan worked his magic once again.

“Logan” – “Logan” is a superhero movie that is not actually a superhero movie. Sure, Hugh Jackman donned the adamantium claws of Wolverine one final time, but it’s unlike any other superhero movie you’ve ever seen. “Logan” has a melancholy feeling throughout the movie, it tells the story of how everything must come to an end. Along the way there are great action scenes with Logan fighting with a never-before-seen ferocity.

“It” – Fans had waited many years for the silver-screen adaptation of the beloved Stephen King novel. While the movie wasn’t very scary, “It” did not disappoint. The film told a great story with great young characters and left you wanting more. Good thing there’s a sequel.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” – “The Last Jedi” had to be on this list because it’s a cultural phenomenon. The influence of Star Wars movies over the years is impossible to quantify. “The Last Jedi” brings back many beloved characters and introduces a few new ones with great action scenes. It’s not everything I hoped it would be, but my hopes were probably too high.

“Justice League” – This movie didn’t get the high marks from critics it was hoping for, and likewise didn’t get the high box-office numbers it was expecting, but it was a good time at the movies. The combination of Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman all in the same movie brought back the joys of my childhood.

“American Assassin” – I admit it, I’m biased when it comes to “American Assassin.”  I love the series of books featuring Mitch Rapp as the cold-blooded CIA assassin. “American Assassin” shows how Rapp became a killing machine and Dylan O’Brien was surprisingly well cast as Rapp. We can only hope sequels are in the works.

“Why Him” – Frankly, it wasn’t the best year for quality at the theater. Having said that, “Why Him” was the funniest movie of the year. It was irreverent and downright wrong at times, but that’s what made it so funny. Who knew the man best known for playing Walter White could be so funny?

“Coco” – The best family movie of the year, by a wide margin, was “Coco.” The film was a pleasant surprise. Great visuals combined with one of the best stories for an animated film in recent years made for an enjoyable and astonishingly emotional movie.

Movie Night – ‘The Last Jedi’ is must-see Star Wars film

By Bradley Griffith

The highly-anticipated sequel to “The Force Awakens” has hit theaters and is the fourth movie in the history of the cinema to make over $200 million in its opening weekend. Moviegoers are flocking to the theater to see “The Last Jedi,” but the question remains: is the movie any good? The answer is somewhat disappointing: it’s good, but not great.

“The Force Awakens” concluded with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finding long-lost Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote island on a far-flung planet. The Resistance is on the run from the First Order and has pinned all its hopes on finding Skywalker. The Resistance needs Luke to spark hope throughout the galaxy and ignite the rebellion.

But Luke didn’t want to be found, and he sure doesn’t want to help lead any rebellion.  He wants to live the rest of his life in peace away from war, Jedis, and the Force. Luke believes he failed when trying to train young Jedis before and wants no part of causing more loss and despair. He wants to be left alone, but Rey won’t accept Luke’s refusal.

At the same, across the galaxy the Resistance base is under attack by the First Order, led by the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) manages to delay the First Order long enough for General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) to order all transport ships to ferry their soldiers to safety and escape at light speed. But the First Order is able to follow them through light speed and the Resistance ships are almost out of fuel.

With no other option, Finn (John Boyega) and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) launch a last-ditch effort to save the Resistance. They need to get on board the First Order’s flagship and disable the tracker. To sneak on board the First Order ship they need a master codebreaker who is on another planet. As the movie unfolds the three separate storylines of Rey and Luke, Poe Dameron, and Finn and Rose are weaved together near the climax of the movie.

I wanted to be wowed by “The Last Jedi” in the same way that I was wowed by “The Force Awakens.” Unfortunately, it was not to be. “The Last Jedi” is a good movie, excellent in some scenes, but in comparison to “The Force Awakens” it doesn’t measure up. It’s probably an unfair comparison, but one that will be made regardless.

“The Last Jedi” is a classic middle movie of a series. The Star Wars saga was reignited with “The Force Awakens” and needed a continuation to future movies where the storyline may or may not be concluded. “The Last Jedi” is neither the beginning of the story nor the end.  This puts the movie in a difficult position and results in a relatively slow pace for the first hour and a half of the movie.

One aspect where all Stars Wars films excel is making the viewer feel like you are part of the action, and “The Last Jedi” continues this tradition. As the movie unfolds you will feel like you are a part of the world of Rey, Finn, and Poe. For over two hours you will feel like a member of the resistance. It’s the ultimate in escaping to other places at the movies.

The final 45 minutes of “The Last Jedi” are fantastic. The action increases, the battles ramp up, mutinies occur, and we finally get some light saber fights. This last section of the movie is among the best in all the Star Wars pantheon of films. This section of the movie alone makes it worth the price of admission.

“The Last Jedi” is a very good movie. The climax is outstanding, and it sets up the next film in the franchise. While it can’t quite measure up to the unfair standard of “The Force Awakens,” it is still a force to be reckoned with at the box-office and a must-see movie.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

Adam’s Apples – Two favorite Christmas presents

By James Mack Adams

It’s that time of year again. Word on the street is that Santa Clause, aka Kris Kringle, aka Father Christmas, aka St. Nicholas is loading his sleigh and mapping out his route for his annual Christmas Eve journey. NORAD is synchronizing its tracking systems to monitor his progress. One of his stops will surely be Rock Creek Road. I am counting on it. I hope I made the cut for his “good list” this year. 

Like countless Christmases past, I am looking forward to once again watching one of my favorite Christmas movies, “A Christmas Story.” I suppose it will air once again on some cable channel. It will be downright un-American if it doesn’t. I have lost count of the number of times I have viewed it since it came out in 1983. It’s one of those movies, like “Patton” and “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” that I never tire of watching.

I suppose the biggest draw for me is the fact I seem to have something in common with Ralphie, the oldest child in the movie’s fictional Parker family. Number one on Ralphie’s Christmas wish list was that Santa bring to him a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range-model air rifle with a compass and a sundial in the stock.

His mother, his teacher and even the department store Santa tried to discourage him in his request. “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” they warned him. Well, Ralphie got his Red Ryder air rifle that Christmas. He didn’t shoot his eye out, but his first BB shot ricocheted off a metal sign and knocked his glasses off. He probably thought he had been blinded. 

I guess that by now you see where this is going. I judge I was about Ralphie’s age, nine years old or so, when Santa left under the tree … you guessed it … a beautiful Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range-model air rifle. I was ecstatic. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  It didn’t have a compass and sundial in the stock, but apparently those additions were dreamed up by the movie’s writers and were not standard for the real rifle.

From what I can find out from Google, the Red Ryder air rifle was introduced sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s. It was designed to resemble the Winchester lever-action rifle seen in a lot of Western movies. Since I was a huge fan of Western movies, I could not imagine receiving a better Christmas present.

I will put your mind at ease before going any further. Both of my eyes are intact. No one said to me, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Not even my mother cautioned me about that possibility. That was uncharacteristic of her since she was still telling me to be careful crossing the street when I was thirty-something years of age. Mom did lecture me about the responsibility of owning such a weapon. She told me that if she ever caught me shooting at birds, squirrels, or any other of God’s creatures she would immediately confiscate my beautiful Red Ryder 200-shot carbine-action range-model air rifle.

I can truthfully say I never even considered harming any living creature. I honed my marksmanship skills by shooting at glass bottles, tin cans and other inanimate objects.  My father was in law enforcement during parts of his working life. There were usually unsecured firearms around the house, but I knew better than to fool with them. I was a young recruit in the Tennessee National Guard when I fired my first real gun. It was the old M1 rifle. Older military vets probably remember that one. I do believe my practice with my beautiful Red Ryder lever-action 200-shot range-model air rifle contributed to my future marksmanship abilities in the military.

I have no idea what finally happened to my beautiful Red Ryder lever-action 200-shot range-model air rifle. Like other childhood possessions, I suppose it was either discarded, given away, or disappeared in one of our family relocations. Memory can become somewhat hazy over time.

My second most memorable Christmas gift from Santa came a few years after my beautiful Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range-model air rifle. It was a beautiful red 1940’s-era Schwinn bicycle. Again, I was thrilled. My feelings at that time could compare to an adult finally getting that shiny new car he or she has been wanting.

Further research tells me the Schwinn brand has been around since 1895 and the Schwinn company was the dominant manufacturer of bicycles in the 20th century. This was of course before the appearance on the market of the multiple-speed bicycle. My beautiful red 1940s-era Schwinn bicycle had but one speed. Breaking was accomplished by backpedaling. A little variety was added to the bike riding enjoyment by placing a piece of cardboard between the spokes to simulate the sound of a motor.

My beautiful red 1940s-era Schwinn bicycle was my main mode of transportation during several years of my youth. We did not have a family car for much of that time, so I had to either ride my bike or walk everywhere I went.

Like my beautiful Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range-model air rifle, I have no idea what happened to my beautiful red 1940s-era Schwinn bicycle.   

As I write this column, I am not yet sure what I want Santa to bring to me this year. I’m certain I can come up with something I absolutely cannot live without. Santa will have a real challenge topping my beautiful Red Ryder carbine-action range-model 200-shot air rifle and my beautiful red 1940s-era Schwinn bicycle.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Remembering the reason for the season

By Lisa Whaley

I have a confession to make: I’m a little nutty about Christmas.

I love the sparkling lights, both white and brightly colored. I love a real Christmas tree, with its rich woodsy fragrance.

Come December, I drive my family  slightly crazy with a constant stream of Christmas carols from morn ’til night. And I love, love pretty packages stacked beneath the aforementioned tree.

But this weekend I was reminded of an important holiday detail.

Sometimes, the meaning for the celebration ends up getting lost in all that glitter.

Those wise words — or something like them — were spoken by Steve Rice, pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Unicoi where my family and I were guests this past Sunday. They were shared at the close of a very special Christmas presentation titled “Tennessee Christmas – A Night of Miracles.”

The play, created by Sharon Mason and Damaris Higgins, told the story of a group of holiday travelers stranded at the Nashville airport on Christmas eve.

But while there may have been lots of faces on the stage, it soon became the story of each of us in the audience.

There was the business man, frantic to close the deal and much too busy to savor the season; the woman traveling to see her family, carrying somber health news like a shroud to dampen the joy; the young mother and her two children, facing what she saw as the first of many Christmases without her estranged husband; the ex-con, afraid to return home to his family he was sure would reject him; and a young woman eager to experience her Tennessee Christmas at home with her folks, yet still carrying an unshakable faith in a savior.

Busyness. Loneliness. Unworthiness. Fear. Marching through the season like a somber holiday procession, yet still decked out in sparkles, glistens and bows.

And with each step, the purpose behind our Christmas celebration becomes a bit more removed. We soon forget why we’re celebrating at all.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” [Isaiah 7:14]

Perhaps it’s time to remember — that story of a savior born and a gift of forgiveness.

In the play above, each struggling traveler began to see beyond the glitz, glitter and craziness of the season and into the true heart of Christmas and the deep love it represents.

I can think of no better gift for all of us this holiday season.

Hood’s Winks – My favorite Christmas present

By Ralph Hood

What was your favorite Christmas present? It’s one of those questions that’ll drive you crazy if you let it, (and you know you’re gonna let it.)

My second favorite present was the bicycle—not a bicycle, but the bicycle. I didn’t grow up rough, but I did grow up when one kid got one bicycle, not one every two years.

I didn’t expect a bicycle that year. When we came roaring into the living room on Christmas morning, it was the first thing I saw. It was so unexpected that all I could say was, “Who is that for?” Mother laughingly asked, “Well, who do you think it’s for?” Those are exact quotes. I remember each word like it was yesterday.

It was a red Schwinn with no extras, which was just perfect. Boys didn’t want extras. Extras were for girls and sissies.

The bike was way too big for me, but it was supposed to be. The theory was, you got a man’s bike and grew into it. I could ride the bike only by sliding from side to side, standing up. I couldn’t sit down, because my legs wouldn’t reach the pedals. I loved it.

But it wasn’t my favorite present. Actually, that bike is one of the few presents I remember getting. It was the best present I received, but it wasn’t my favorite.

My favorite present was not one I got, but one I gave.

Yes, that sounds corny and trite, and I don’t know if it really is better to give than to receive. I only know that the present I enjoyed the most was one I gave.

It was 1966, I was 25, and wife Gail was then-girlfriend Gail. We were unofficially engaged. She had no ring, but we had a long-standing agreement that the ring would come at Easter.

I cheated. I got her one for Christmas.

I wrapped that tiny ring in a largish box, nestled in cotton, with two bricks for ballast. I put it under the tree at Gail’s parents’ home (this was back when single girls often lived with their parents), and I let her wonder.

I gave her plenty of hints. I told her it required feeding, I told her it would keep her feet warm (to this day I haven’t found anything that really will), I worried aloud that she might not like the flavor and that it might spoil before Christmas.

Everybody in Gail’s family knew about the present. Everybody was in on it but Gail, and we all teased her about it.

We overdid it. By Christmas Day Gail was a nervous, hand-wringing wreck. Then, just before she was to open it, I hid the present. We almost lost Gail, right there. I brought it back quickly, just to calm her down.

Gail opened the present and broke immediately into tears. I feared she cried because she didn’t really want to marry me, but she swears it was because she was so happy.

She says it was her favorite Christmas present. I say it was mine.

Adapted from Ralph’s book, “The Truth & Other Lies.”

Movie Night – ‘Coco’ takes look at Mexican tradition

By Bradley Griffith

The new Disney and Pixar movie “Coco” asks the question of what would happen if the stories behind the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead was real. “Coco” provides that answer in an interesting, entertaining, and heartwarming manner.

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is only 12, but he knows what he wants to be for the rest of his life: a musician. He dreams of playing the guitar and singing for thousands of people.  Miguel’s only problem is his family. Music of any kind is one hundred percent absolutely forbidden not only in their household, but in their lives. 

Many years before, Miguel’s great-great grandfather left his wife, Imelda (Alanna Ubach), and young daughter, Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), to pursue a singing career. He never returned.  Imelda banished music from the family forever. Imelda began a shoe making business that has been passed down the generations, and will one day be passed to Miguel. But Miguel doesn’t want to be a shoemaker.

On the Day of the Dead the family discovers Miguel’s hidden room devoted to music. Miguel’s grandmother, Abuelita (Renee Victor), insists that Miguel give up his dream to be a musician and she destroys his guitar.  He angrily storms out of house and to Mariachi Square. Miguel wants to compete in a singing contest but has no guitar.

The only guitar he can get is one in the tomb of Mexico’s greatest musician, Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel takes the guitar and makes the mistake of strumming it one time. He is instantly rendered invisible to everyone. He then begins seeing dead people. He runs into some of his dead relatives in the cemetery and realizes that he has been transported to the land of the dead.

Miguel must find a way to return to the land of the living before sunrise or he will forever be stuck in the land of the dead. He needs help. Miguel turns to Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a permanent resident of the land of the dead who has never managed to make it back to the land of the living on the Day of the Dead. Only together can they both achieve their goals.

It’s extremely rare for an animated family movie to be successful and not be incredibly funny.  Virtually all the films in this genre rely on laughs for their entertainment. “Coco” is the rare exception. It has some funny moments, but what makes the movie so captivating is the story.  The writing is fantastic and keeps you glued to the screen, with a couple of twists and turns along the way.

To be sure, a family movie about death is unusual. Most of the characters are skeletons dressed in various clothes with designs on their skulls. Still, there’s nothing even remotely frightening about the movie. In fact, most of the skeletons are goofy and lovable and want nothing more than to help Miguel make his way back to the land of the living.

While kids will appreciate the adventures of Miguel and Hector as they bumble their way around the land of the dead, to fully appreciate the movie you may need a little more life experience.  Miguel’s relationship with Coco, how your ancestors helped to make your life what it is today, and how they can still help guide you are themes that really speak to adults. Teenagers may not love the movie, but younger kids and adults will enjoy the movie because it speaks to them on different levels.

“Coco” does provide an answer to what could happen if the day of the dead was true.  But it’s more than that. It is a movie about the importance of family told through a great story and amazing visuals. I was skeptical going into the theater, but I was won over by the end of the movie.  It’s inventive and imaginative and, possibly, the best animated film of the year.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated PG for thematic elements

Movie Night – Ferrell, Wahlberg make ‘Daddy’s Home 2’ enjoyable

By Bradley Griffith

I have written 48 reviews this year and only five of them have been about movies that truly fit into the comedy category. The reason for this is simple: there are very few great comedies made anymore. There are many good movies in other genres that also have a lot of laughs, but at their heart they aren’t comedies. “Daddy’s Home 2” isn’t great, but it will do until the next great comedy comes along.

Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) and Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) are finally getting along. Brad is married to Dusty’s ex-wife, Sara (Linda Cardellini), and the step-dad of Dusty’s two kids, Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro). While in the first movie Brad and Dusty clashed over their different parenting styles, in the sequel they not only get along, but appear to be best friends in their co-dad duties.

This peaceful situation is in danger of exploding up during the holidays. Brad and Dusty decide to have one big Christmas together for the sake of the kids. Brad’s dad, Don (John Lithgow), is coming for Christmas like he always does. But this year Dusty’s dad, Kurt (Mel Gibson), invited himself for the holidays.

Much like Brad and Dusty, Don and Kurt couldn’t be more different. Don is nurturing and loving and treats Brad like he’s still a young child. Don frequently kisses Brad on the lips.  Kurt, on the other hand, is the epitome of a cool older guy. He’s a former astronaut and is a man’s man. Dusty dreads his father’s arrival because he knows that Kurt will constantly make fun of the relationship he has with Brad.

But Kurt takes it a step further. He spends the entire movie trying to sabotage the goodwill that Brad and Dusty built up between each other. It’s not until later in the movie that Kurt begins to realize maybe he can learn a thing or two about being a dad from Brad, Don, and Dusty.

First of all, you don’t need to see the first movie to appreciate “Daddy’s Home 2.” I haven’t seen the first film. All you need to know is that Brad and Dusty clashed in their parenting styles and personalities but eventually worked it out for the good of the kids. It’s fairly easy to recognize the relationships, the dynamics between the characters, and all of the unsaid words.

Most importantly, “Daddy’s Home 2” is funny. Are you going to laugh until your stomach hurts or until you fall out of your chair? No. But the laughs are pretty much non-stop as the movie moves along at a brisk pace. The chemistry between Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg is what makes the movie enjoyable. Their characters, and the actors themselves, seem to be the opposite of each other in nearly every way, yet they somehow make it work.

“Daddy’s Home 2” is Will Ferrell’s best movie since “Anchorman 2,” over four years ago. He tends to either give a perfect performance or a pretty bad one. In this case he is the perfect mild-mannered Brad Whitaker. His character is so innocent that he’s vaguely reminiscent of Buddy from “Elf.”

A bonus feature to “Daddy’s Home 2” is that it’s also a Christmas movie in theaters during the holidays. It takes place during the week leading up to Christmas, mostly in an enormous rented cabin with snow constantly falling. They decorate the cabin with Christmas lights and go snow sledding. Although, it’s probably not best appreciated by kids. There’s nothing in the movie that’s particularly bad for teens, but the humor is probably better appreciated by adults.

If you’re in the mood for a funny Christmas movie to lighten and brighten your day, you could do much worse than “Daddy’s Home 2.”

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for suggestive material and some language.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Neighbors turn hardship into thanksgiving

By Lisa Whaley

With Thanksgiving now behind us, we prepare to dive headfirst into the upcoming holiday season.

Yet this year, perhaps like no other, we are reminded that the joys of the season are not always a reflection of the events of the year.

On Nov. 14, a little more than a week before Thanksgiving, local favorite Clarence’s Drive-In burned to the ground leaving a family, the restaurant’s employees and its surrounding community heartbroken.

The diner had been in operation as “Clarence’s” since 1969, when Clarence Tapp purchased the eatery. Tapp’s niece, Teresa Collins and her husband Jerry, are the current owners, and had continued building on its reputation as a favorite gathering place.

The atmosphere was warm and unpretentious. The food was home-cooking — especially breakfast — at its best. And you didn’t have to be a resident of Unicoi County to be a fan.

Long before I had even met my husband — whose family tree is filled with Unicoi County roots and branches — I had already sampled platefuls of its tasty fare with equally appreciative friends.

Not long ago, in fact, my teenage daughter and I had grabbed a Sunday bite after an afternoon spent in  town. We didn’t realize it would be our last Clarence burger and hot roast beef sandwich for a while — such a tiny loss compared to those who depended on Clarence’s for their livelihood, yet a loss nonetheless.

Still, as is often the case, neighbors and friends showed all of us once again the right way to react to disaster  — and through their responses were able to begin turning more than one loss into potential blessings.

Everyone, of course, is grateful that the fire was contained and no one was injured in the blaze. Members of the Unicoi County Volunteer Fire Department have been credited for being instrumental in limiting its spread.

As for the restaurant’s employees, most who had been with the restaurant for years, some have been offered jobs at nearby Johnson City eateries and while others have been the focus of local individuals and churches who have worked to provide help for the Thanksgiving holiday. Former employee Amy Devercelly has even set up a GoFund-Me page for Clarence’s employees. To donate to the GoFund-Me page, visit

Even the cause of the blaze, a spark ignited by the paving company preparing to do work at the restaurant, turned into a blessing because while the restaurant itself was unable to secure fire insurance because of its age, the paving company was insured, according to Teresa Collins.

That means they will be re-opening Clarence’s Drive-In, as soon as they can get everything in place. Right now, they’re looking at leasing the former La Meza Mexican restaurant building located at 3615 Unicoi Drive, then eventually rebuilding on Clarence’s original location.

That’s a definite blessing for its customers, as well as the employees.

This fire hasn’t been allowed to rob the joy, but it is still a reminder. As we move into the Christmas season, let us not forget that more than one of us are carrying heavy burdens as the sleigh bells ring this year. Let us continue to look for ways to turn those burdens into blessings, or to help lighten them when we can. Clarence’s employees are one example. I know, if we look, we can find many more.

Movie Night – ‘Justice League’ offers good time at movies

By Bradley Griffith

“Justice League” has finally arrived. DC Comics’ response to “The Avengers” has at long last hit theaters. Even though “Justice League” was released in theaters more than five years after its rival and despite the fact that it landed with a thud at both the box office and with many critics, “Justice League” is a good time at the movies.

The entire world is in mourning after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) at the conclusion of “Batman v. Superman.” Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) knows that the worst is still yet to come. Batman wants to form a team of superheroes to fight the evil that he knows is around the corner. For once, Batman knows he can’t win this fight alone.

On the island of Themyscira the great Amazon warriors are protecting one of three mother boxes spread around the world. These boxes are pure energy and were distributed around the earth more than 5,000 years ago to keep them safe. With Superman’s death the way is clear for the return of an ancient evil by the name of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds). He quickly steals the box from the Amazon warriors and is on the prowl for the other two boxes.

After the box is stolen from Themyscira, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) seeks out Batman to offer her help. Still, they need more firepower. Batman recruits Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) to the team and does his best to bring Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) into the fold.

Wonder Woman is trying to track down Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) when he finds her instead. After an accident in a high-tech laboratory, Cyborg is mostly a machine but with the mind of a human and can do amazing things with technology.

The heroes band together in an attempt to stop Steppenwolf from destroying our world. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the five superheroes are enough.

Forget everything else you have read or heard about “Justice League” and know this, above all “Justice League” is one heck of a good time at the movies. It provides action, adventure, humor, and many of your favorite superheroes. Even though it is over two hours in length, the time flies by as the action on the screen keeps your attention throughout.

The general theme of Marvel movies is that they are light-hearted and comical. DC movies trend more toward darkness and impending doom. “Justice League” (somewhat) bucks that trend. It’s still a dark movie, but not as dark as many other DC movies. Additionally, it’s the funniest DC movie yet, thanks mostly to Ezra Miller’s portrayal of The Flash and his naïve approach to fighting the Steppenwolf and his ridiculous flying minions.

All five of the main superheroes in “Justice League” receive equal screen time. Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash get their own mini origin stories and each of them are critical in facing Steppenwolf. Still, there’s no mistaking that Wonder Woman is the leader of the team as they all look to her for guidance and direction.

Aquaman is one of the more interesting characters in the film. Historically in the comic books and cartoons Aquaman is, for lack of a better term, lame. He wears bright green tights and a bright orange shirt with scales and is only helpful in the water. The filmmakers of “Justice League” decided Aquaman should be the exact opposite. They cast Jason Momoa, formerly of “Game of Thrones” and tried to make him as cool as possible. They succeeded as much as they could given the fact that virtually all of the movie takes place on land.

“Justice League” is a lot of fun. It’s much better than “Batman v. Superman” and better than I expected. For fans of superhero movies, “Justice League” is a must-see movie.

• • •

Grade: A

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

A Refreshing Knapp – Thanksgiving

By Ray Knapp

The first Thanksgiving in the New World occurred with the 53 colonists (all who remained of the 100 who had landed) from the Mayflower expedition along with 90 Indian friends in the fall of 1621. It lasted for three days. Around our house, depending on what my wife cooks, I would say it lasts upward of a week.

Like all holidays there has been so much research done about it that you could write a book just from the research on its original date, and various other dates in between 1621 and the Thanksgiving we will celebrate tomorrow. The first Thanksgiving Day for the United States was proclaimed by President George Washington, “noting that both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested [him] to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer,'” formally declared November 26 to “be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”

Various dates for Thanksgiving ensued over the years until finally a date was established by the House and Senate in 1941 and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt as the 4th Thursday in November. Regardless of the day it falls on, I enjoy Thanksgiving; not so much for the Turkey and fixings, (as I once did) but because it is a day to give thanks.

I’m surprised that the Freedom From Religion Foundation hasn’t challenged Thanksgiving Day as discriminatory towards atheists and agnostics. Perhaps they haven’t come up with a reason convincing enough to show they are specifically harmed by it.

Locally, and across the nation, many churches and civic/service organizations prepare hundreds of thousands of meals and food baskets for the homeless and less fortunate. It is no different here in our county. One of the highlights of the year for my wife and I is delivering some of the meals prepared by Ninth Street Baptist and Grace United Methodist Church on that day.

Seeing as how we’re representing the churches and our Maker, we always ask if the recipients would like for us to say a prayer for them. Some, I’ve noticed, are caught off guard by this, while others gladly say yes, and they often ask prayers for members of their family. I was touched by one older lady that lived just off Hwy 107. After I had said a prayer for her and prayed a blessing over the food, she surprised me by giving a blessing for our churches, the members and pastors.

The first time we volunteered to deliver meals we returned to the church expecting some leftovers to eat. There wasn’t any. We went home and had a microwave dinner. Maybe we felt more blessed because of that. Anyway we had a good laugh about ‘our’ Thanksgiving meal and it made that day all the more special-a day we won’t forget.

Of course merchants prepare all year for its arrival. Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, is known for “Door Buster” sales. However, to be first, merchants have backed the time to start their sales to as much as a week before that day, and ‘Black Friday’ don’t have the same impact it once had and of course online sales has made somewhat of a confused mess of Black Friday. The 2 juggernauts of sales in general, Wal-Mart and Amazon, are going after one another’s sales this year, which may make it a buyers’ market, especially between now and Christmas.

Perhaps, of all the presidential proclamations concerning Thanksgiving Day, Abraham Lincoln said it best with his Proclamation of Thanksgiving of Octo. 3, 1863, which reads: “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Movie Night – New film enjoyable adaptation of Christie’s novel

By Bradley Griffith

“Murder on the Orient Express” is a welcome respite from the abundance of action movies that are attacking the theaters during this holiday season. Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, the mystery is an entertaining way to exercise your mind and curiosity, and is a great way to spend a chilly autumn evening.

As the movie opens in 1934 famous Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is in Jerusalem at the request of the local police force. Someone has stolen a priceless relic and the three main suspects are a rabbi, a priest, and an imam. Only Hercule Poirot can solve such a crime and keep the peace between the three religions in the tumultuous city.

After solving that caper, Poirot decides to take a much-needed vacation. While in Istanbul Poirot receives a telegram regarding an impending case in England and he must return at once. His friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) offers him a berth on his train, the Orient Express.  Poirot gladly accepts, believing that the train ride may provide some rest and relaxation for his journey.

Instead, Poirot meets a rather unsavory character named Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) on the train. Ratchett knows of Poirot through his reputation and tries to hire Poirot to be his bodyguard. Ratchett is an unscrupulous businessman and has many enemies. He has been receiving threatening letters. Poirot politely declines. When Ratchett objects, Poirot not-so-politely declines. Later that night Poirot hears unusual noises coming from Ratchett’s compartment and sees a woman dashing away from Rathchett’s room in a red kimono.

The next morning Poirot finds Ratchett dead in his room. Bouc convinces Poirot to take the case. Several clues are found in the room that taken together make no sense. One thing is for certain, only someone on the train could be the murderer.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is, of course, based on the novel by Agatha Christie. “Murder” is a classic whodunit story, maybe THE classic whodunit story of all time and it is faithfully and expertly brought to the screen by Branagh. The movie has more action than the book and tells the story a little more theatrically, but the essence of the locked-room mystery still remains.

The movie does a very fine job of setting the stage for the mystery to come. The characters aboard the train seem to all be equally suspicious and equally innocent at the same time. The fact that someone on the train must be the killer and that the train is stopped in literally the middle of nowhere by an avalanche of snow heightens the intrigue and tension.

The cast of “Murder” is all performed well. Branagh’s Poirot is equal parts pretentious, relentless, eccentric, and brilliant. His fancy mustache itself is a thing to behold. The remaining cast members include Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, and Judi Dench. It is without a doubt the best assembled cast of the year.

The only problem with the movie, and it can’t be avoided, is that if you have read the book you already know the identity of the killer. I read the book long ago, but not so long that I forgot the ending. It does dull the enjoyment of the movie just a touch, but seeing the iconic characters come together using modern filmmaking techniques makes the story feel fresh.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is a satisfying adaptation of the classic novel, a classic novel that is actually enjoyable to read and also to watch on the big screen. I, for one, vote for more adaptations of Agatha Christie novels.

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.

Movie Night – ‘Thor: Rganarok’ offers superhero action, laughs

By Bradley Griffith

“Thor: Ragnarok” is the third Marvel movie released in 2017, behind “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spiderman: Homecoming.” If you were to think that Marvel sacrificed quality for quantity, you would be wrong. “Thor: Ragnarok” continues the Marvel tradition of quality movies with great superhero action and humor that the entire family can enjoy.

As “Ragnarok” opens Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is encased in chains and hanging from the ceiling of a vast underground cavern. Thor’s jailer is the fire demon known as Surfur (voiced by Clancy Brown). Surfur tells Thor that his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is no longer on Thor’s home planet of Asgard. With Odin gone and Thor in chains, Asgard is unprotected. Surfur plans to bring about Ragnarok, an ancient prophecy that foretells the complete destruction of Asgard.

After dispatching Surfur, Thor returns to Asgard to find that Heimdall (Idris Elba) is no longer in control of the Bifrost bridge between Asgard and other worlds. Asgard itself has changed and Thor doesn’t know why until he finds his mostly evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) impersonating their father.

Thor and Loki travel to Earth to find Odin. They eventually make their way to Odin, with a little help from Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Odin tells the brothers for the first time about their sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. Hela was banished by Odin and their father is the only thing stopping Hela from returning to Asgard and taking it for her own.

Hela quickly appears and destroys Thor’s hammer. In an attempt to return to Asgard through the Bifrost, Hela is able to eject both Thor and Loki from the bridge and onto a garbage planet known as Sakaar. Thor and (maybe) Loki must find a way to return to Asgard and save it from the clutches of Hela.

Marvel’s trademarks are great superhero action and lots of laughs. “Ragnarok” fits right in with those themes. In addition to great action with Thor, there’s little-brother-with-a-perpetual-chip-on-his-shoulder Loki, Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo when Bruce Banner), Hela, Heimdall, and Tessa Thompson’s fierce Scrapper 142. The action comes quickly and the special effects are incredible.

The facet of the movie that was emphasized by the Director Taika Waititi was humor. All Marvel movies are funny, especially when compared with their dark DC Comics brethren. But “Ragnarok” takes the hilarity to a new level. I can say without reservation that “Ragnarok” is the funniest Marvel movie yet. Does it go too far in an attempt to make the movie funny above all else? Maybe, but you can’t deny that you’ll leave the theater with a smile on your face.

Though Thor is obviously the main character, the Hulk gets quite a bit of screen time in the film.  The Hulk has more dialogue as the Hulk that in any other movie. Thor has a difficult time trying to get him to return to Bruce Banner and Thor and the Hulk have quite a bit of banter back and forth with the Hulk’s caveman humor being perfectly delivered. They also have one heck of a memorable fight that ended, apparently, in a draw.

As you may expect if you have seen the other Thor movies, all but a couple of scenes take place on other worlds or in other dimensions. “Ragnarok” is less an earthbound superhero movie and more science fiction superhero flick. So, be ready to travel the galaxy to enjoy the movie.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a rollicking action-adventure packed with humor that entertains from start to finish.  It’s easily the best of the three Thor movies.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action and brief suggestive material.

Adam’s Apples – Senior citizen tech savvy

By James Mack Adams

One of my Facebook friends posts some very clever and funny stuff. I have no idea where she finds it. Some of it is LOL (laughing out loud) comical and usually right on point. 

A recent favorite of mine depicts a young boy, whom I judge to be about six years of age, on the telephone with his grandmother. He is trying to explain to her how to access WIFI on her electronic device. His frustration is obvious by the expression on his face and the hand to his forehead. Evidently, grandma is just not getting it. “Just go into settings and select WIFI,” he tells her.  “Select it.” (pause) “Tap it.” (pause) “With your finger.” (pause) “Any finger…..GRRR!”

Another favorite posting reads that a person cannot get help with his iPad right now because the resident expert is sleeping. He is five years old and it is past his bedtime.

The rapid advancement in electronics in recent years has led some to conclude that we senior citizens are functionally illiterate when it comes to technology. They are wrong. I am a senior citizen who has an iPhone 7, iPad Air, and MacBook Air laptop. I am still able to manipulate three remotes to stream movies and other programs to my television. So, I don’t think I am too technologically challenged. I must admit though I am still learning about all the electronic gadgetry on my car.

This past summer, Marilyn and I did some traveling with a bus load, followed by a train load, of mostly senior citizens. I was surprised how many of them pulled out their smart phones and iPads to take photos or check their email.

Here is some advice to older folks who use modern electronic devices. Sooner or later the time will come when you will need to call tech service. Make sure you have taken all your medications, especially those for hypertension. You may also need to follow the call with a period of soft music and quiet meditation to soothe the jangled nerves. A yoga session might be in order.

When I call, I sometimes get a technician in Bangladesh or some other fractured-English-speaking location. It makes me want to hang up and search the neighborhood for a six-year-old child to help me.

To lighten the mood, I sometimes like to have a little fun with the tech rep on the other end.  “Before we begin,” I say, “I would like you to know you are talking to someone who once listened to vacuum-tube-powered radios and has used non-portable telephones that could do only two things, make and receive calls.”

I well remember the first home telephone to which I was introduced as a child. It was mounted on the wall and had a crank that was turned to alert the telephone company’s switchboard operator. Opening conversations with the operator sometimes went like this:

“Mabel, this is Sally. Please ring Gertrude for me.”

“Hi Sally. I don’t think Gertrude is at home. I believe she went to Richmond to visit her sister.  She will be gone about a week.”

“Thanks Mabel. Say hello to George and the kids.”

I suppose the fact I once worked with computers as a state employee and taught computer technology and programing in a tech school for a number of years gives me some advantage, but not much. I now consider those days to be the “dark ages” of electronic data processing. I can do many things on my smart phone that I was unable to do on the room-size IBM mainframe computer system on which I once worked.

And now back to the subject of television. I was a teenager when the miracle of television started to become an entertainment and information media in the Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee areas. In those early days, having a television set in your home was somewhat of a status symbol. It was not unusual for only one or two homes on a street to own a set.

Reception of a good TV signal was a real problem in our mountainous region. An auto dealer in my town bought a television set and decided to place it in a small mountain cabin he owned. He recruited me and some of my teenage buddies to go to the cabin with him one weekend to help him install the antenna on the mountain. After several tries at orienting the installed antenna, we were finally able to get a snowy picture and some static sound on the tiny screen. I remember how excited we all were about our success.

With the passage of time, and some tight budgeting, my parents were able to buy a TV of our own. That was a red-letter day in the Adams household. It was a floor model console with a tiny screen. We had to turn knobs to control the on-off, the volume and to switch between the three available channels. That was my job. I was the remote. 

Yes, this senior citizen has seen a lot of advances in technology over the years. I am hoping that I will be around to see many more during the next few years. As long as I can manipulate my fingers and my brain still functions I say, “Bring it on!”