Officer Norway’s Corner – SRO focused on safety of students, teachers

By Officer Kjell Michelsen

A new school year is just days away and with that, what better time to write my first few lines in my own little corner here in The Erwin Record – Officer Norway’s Corner.

Now, first off, “Officer Norway” is not my real name, which is, Kjell Michelsen, hence the need for a nickname! The Norwegian part of that nickname is from the fact that I was born and raised in a small fishing village in Northern Norway, named Båtsfjord. How I ended up here in little Erwin is a longer story.

Anyhow, my job the majority of the year is being assigned by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department as a School Resource Officer to the high school. That is where my passion is, to not only be a resource as the title mentions to the school, but also to ensure to the best of my abilities the safety of our students, our school, faculty, and staff.

I might be just one law enforcement officer at the school, but this job is indeed a team job if there ever was one. It’s a team of not only fellow officers but faculty, staff and maybe most importantly the students themselves.

Besides my main focus which is safety, one of my best jobs at the high school is to be an advisor for our student-driven SADD club. SADD stands for Students Against Destructive Decisions and is one of the biggest youth organizations in the U.S. For more than 30 years, SADD has been committed to empowering young people to lead education and prevention initiatives in their schools and communities.

We are a new club, only a couple of years old, but we already have visited other schools in our county, talking to younger students about the dangers of substance abuse, smoking, etc. Earlier this year we entered into a nationwide video contest about the dangers of driving in the dark and was selected as one of the top 10 entries.

We have sent students for a free of charge leadership retreat to Nashville and have had many safety focused campaigns at the school. I encourage especially incoming freshmen, but also other students, to be a part of something that can change lives in so many positive ways. It does not cost anything to be a SADD club member; all we want is a drive and a willingness to help each other, after all, it’s the most effective force in prevention. See you on the first day of school.

Hood’s Winks – Gone, but not forgotten

By Ralph Hood

As mentioned often in this column, I was a professional speaker for several decades. I was proud to be a journeyman in the trade, but was never one of the great stars.

I knew the great stars, though, and several were my very good friends. Three of them come to mind often.

Robert Henry was my first speaking mentor. He was perhaps the funniest speaker in Alabama at the time and one of the funniest in the country. He took the time and effort to encourage me to become a professional, and helped me greatly along the way.

I’ll never forget Robert’s last speech. It was for the convention of the National Speakers Association, and Robert was a very sick man. His speech, though, was absolutely wonderful. Those of us who loved him—and many did—were at the point of tears when he finished. I visited him at home soon after.

Robert died shortly thereafter, but is still missed by all who remember him.

Rosita Perez was another great speaker and a delightful friend. Of Cuban descent, she wore a flower in her hair, played the guitar, sang, and spoke. She was wonderful—on or off stage—and a joyous person. Everyone loved Rosita.

I visited Rosita at her home shortly before her death.

Then there was Bryan Townsend. Bryan was first and foremost a Christian, and also a great husband, father, and friend. He started and taught a Sunday school class for men. The class grew so fast that it actually built a new building for the church.

Almost secondarily, Bryan was a truly great speaker. I was his mentor at first, but he quickly surpassed me in every way.

We remained great friends. I remember the night when I was speaking in Virginia and Bryan’s daughter called to tell me, just before my speech, that Bryan had suffered a stroke and might not live.

Bryan did not live, and professional speakers from all over the country attended his funeral, along with many of his fellow church members and local friends.

These three people had a great influence over those who heard them speak. All of them wrote books, and I’d bet they’re still being read today.

Henry, Rosita, and Bryan were great speakers in addition to being exceptional people. I was one of the many who loved them, and delight in remembering them to this day.

Movie Night – ‘Mission Impossible’ sequel offers non-stop action

By Bradley Griffith

It’s not been a great summer for movies. There were a few standouts, but most of the summer releases have been of average quality. If these movies were enough to almost lull you to sleep, “Mission Impossible: Fallout” is the elixir we all needed to pump life back into the theater. It also happens to be the best movie of the year.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is not only an agent for the Impossible Mission Force, he is the quintessential agent for the IMF. When a job absolutely has to get done, the IMF always turns to Ethan and his team of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames).

It’s been two years since Ethan captured Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the leader of a global terrorist group known as the Syndicate. The remaining members of the Syndicate have formed their own organization called the Apostles. The Apostles are making a deal to sell three stolen plutonium cores to a radical fundamentalist who goes by the name John Lark, though no one knows what Lark looks like, or even his real name.

What they do know about John Lark is that he wrote a manifesto advocating chaos and death on a global scale to supposedly help save the planet. Lark can use the three plutonium cores to make three man-portable nuclear bombs. Ethan and his team can’t let Lark get his hands on the plutonium.

After an unsuccessful attempt to intercept the plutonium before it reached the Apostles, Ethan decides to pose as John Lark to the broker of the plutonium sale, the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). Since no one knows what Lark looks like, the White Widow won’t know that Ethan is not Lark. Problems arise for Ethan when the CIA insists that one of their agents, August Walker (Henry Cavill), accompany him on the mission. Things get even more complicated when disgraced MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) shows up at Ethan’s meeting with the White Widow. Ethan must put all distractions aside so he can once again save the world.

“Mission Impossible: Fallout” is the mother of all action movies. There’s not only non-stop action throughout the movie, but the action scenes are so inventive and well-done that it’s hard to believe what you are seeing on the screen is not real. In one scene Ethan is being chased through the streets of Paris on a motorcycle. He travels down the roadways in the wrong direction and is nearly killed by oncoming traffic no less than a dozen times, and each time it felt so real I could almost feel the breeze off each car as it came oh so close to Ethan’s motorcycle.

Maybe the best scene of the movie is a helicopter chase near the end. It’s likely the best helicopter scene ever filmed for a movie. The special effects and stunts for this scene – and the entire movie – are amazing. A scene involving a high-altitude, low oxygen parachute jump featuring Cruise and Henry Cavill required over 90 takes before it was perfect. At age 56 Cruise doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

But, don’t make the mistake of thinking that “Fallout” is only about action. The story of the movie extends from the last movie in the franchise, “Rogue Nation,” and it’s both interesting and intriguing. The movie includes double-crosses on top of double-crosses and the story works perfectly to seamlessly support the action scenes.

“Fallout” brought back all of the characters you loved from “Rogue Nation” (except for Jeremy Renner), including Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust. The film added Henry Cavill as August Walker to shake up the tight-knit family that is Ethan’s team.

“Mission Impossible: Fallout” has spectacular action scenes with jaw-dropping stunts. It’s not only the best movie in the franchise and the best movie of the year, but also one of the best action movies of all time. It’s flat-out awesome.

• • •

Grade: A+

Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language.

Movie Night – ‘Equalizer 2’ entertaining, but unbelievable

By Bradley Griffith

Twenty-five years ago “The Equalizer 2” would never have been made. The movie industry wasn’t the sequel-obsessed town it is now. The first movie was fairly entertaining, but it didn’t necessarily scream out for a sequel. Still, “The Equalizer 2” is an entertaining, if wholly unbelievable, movie.

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a former special ops government agent who was able to retire only by faking his own death. The only two people who know he is still alive are his former colleague and friend, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), and her husband, Brian (Bill Pullman). In addition to being the only people who know his real identity, Susan and Bill are his only friends.

While in the first movie McCall was working at a home improvement store known as Home Mart, in the sequel McCall works as a Lyft driver. In this job McCall has regular customers, and he regularly meets people who need help, the special kind of help that only someone with his skills can offer. 

McCall spends his days and nights driving for Lyft as well as righting wrongs all over the city. He helps an elderly Holocaust survivor who is trying to gain possession of a portrait of his dead sister. He helps a young woman who was brutalized by a group of supposed “professional” young men. He is even trying to keep a teenage boy in his apartment building from being swallowed up by the gangs and violence in the city.

Things change for McCall when Susan is murdered in Paris while investigating the murder of a U.S. agent. McCall goes from mourning to murderous intent in a flash as he tries to find and eliminate the criminals who killed Susan. But, he needs help. He enlists the help of his former partner, Dave York (Pedro Pascal), who still works for the government and has access to information that McCall needs.

The first half of “The Equalizer 2” involves the set-up to the story and McCall’s efforts to find Susan’s killers. The story has a distinct detective vibe, which is different from the original movie that focused on McCall protecting a young prostitute from the Russian mafia. He knew exactly who they were and where to find them. In the sequel McCall must first find his enemy, which is a better story than pure guns-blazing glory.

The second act of the movie is all about action. When he finds the criminals, there’s no doubt that he won’t stop until he kills every person who had anything to do with Susan’s murder. This creates some good action scenes. Unfortunately, it also creates many unbelievable and unrealistic scenes. For instance, despite car chases in the middle of the city, cars lit on fire, and mayhem in hotel rooms, there is no police presence whatsoever. McCall can apparently do whatever he wants in the most public ways possible and get away scot-free.

The final battle royale of the movie takes place on an island in the middle of a hurricane. As settings go, it’s original. The problem is that it would be almost impossible to shoot straight in such windy conditions, especially from a sniper’s position over a hundred yards away.

Denzel Washington has long a been a favorite of most movie fans. He’s good in action movies and dramas. He does a fine job here, but I can’t help but think he would be better served to stick with the intense dramas that made a name for him in Hollywood.

“The Equalizer 2” is not going to win any Academy Awards, but no one ever thought it would. That is not the movie’s purpose. Its purpose is to provide you with two hours of mindless entertainment, and it does that, with emphasis on mindless.

• • •

Grade: B

Rated R for brutal violence throughout, language, and some drug content.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – It’s time for working the election

By Connie Denney

If “working the election” causes visions of candidates asking for votes while being careful not to cross boundaries at polling places, rethink that—at least for the purposes of this column. Think, instead, of work behind the scenes AND at the scenes.

As this is published Wednesday, Aug. 1, it is Election Day eve. (The notice of the state/federal primary and county general elections Aug. 2 with an image of the official ballot was published in the Wednesday, July 25, edition of this newspaper.) Sarah Bailey, who has served as the county’s administrator of elections since November 2005, anticipates the turnout to be similar to the May primary, around 30 percent. She’s looking forward, though, to a much higher turnout in November, when voters will elect a governor and senator, as well as aldermen for both of our county’s incorporated municipalities.

But, back to tomorrow. Much of the preparation has already been done. Still it will be a long day for folks working the election. With Sarah and Teresa McFadden, deputy administrator since 2001, being the only regular full-time Unicoi County Election Commission employees, other people are appointed to work as early voting deputies, nursing home deputies and Election Day poll workers. 

Tomorrow around 70 poll workers will man Unicoi County’s eight polling places, Flag Pond, Love Chapel, Rock Creek, Unicoi, Temple Hill, High School, Fishery and Limestone Cove. But they won’t just walk in to begin greeting voters as they arrive. They have job descriptions and training—hey, there’s an official handbook. They are required to arrive by 7 a.m. (the Election Commission Office on Nolichucky Avenue will be open even earlier.)

Before polls open at 8 a.m., workers are sworn in and the work spaces organized. It is serious business, of course. The fact that many of the workers have served during multiple elections, along with the training and calling the office when necessary, helps keep things running smoothly. There are, of course, chores to be done after polls close at 8 p.m. It’s all in the handbook! (Anyone interested in working elections may drop by the office for more information.)

I know from personal experience that camaraderie develops and that a practice of bringing and sharing food has contributed to this great side benefit. Someone may bring a certain dish because it was well-liked before. A recipe may be requested. Wondering if this Election Day feast culture evolved because workers cannot leave polling places, I asked Sarah, who said she believed so, adding that some “have really gone above and beyond to create quite a spread!

She also shared her thinking on the serious side of what it’s all about: “Personally, I’ve been registered to vote since I turned 18 and have many memories of voting alongside my parents within the curtained booths of the mechanical lever machines. Voting is one of our most valuable privileges as citizens and one we should never take for granted. It is the best way that we the people can choose leadership and enact change in our communities, states and at the national level.”

Well said.

Movie Night – ‘Ant-Man’ sequel has excellent ensemble

By Bradley Griffith

Between “Avengers Infinity War” and next March’s “Captain Marvel,” Marvel studios had a break of almost a year between their planned films. In stepped “Ant-Man and the Wasp” to fill the void.  It’s an entertaining movie, but in years to come it will only be remembered for bridging the gap between the other Marvel releases.

After the events in “Captain America: Civil War” Scott Lang, aka the Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), returned to his hometown of San Francisco and was promptly arrested by the FBI for assisting Captain America in violation of the Sokovia Accords. Scott was placed under house arrest for two years for his transgressions. 

Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the creator of the Ant-Man suit and technology, and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Hank’s daughter and Scott’s former girlfriend, are in hiding from the FBI thanks to Scott. In his eagerness to help Captain America, in violation of the Sokovia Accords, Scott had taken one of the Ant-Man suits. The FBI believes they colluded with Scott by giving him the Ant-Man suit.

As his time under house arrest Scott nears an end Scott has a vision. He sees Hope as a small girl playing hide and seek with her mom, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). Thirty years before Janet had been wearing an Ant-Man suit and went subatomic to destroy a nuclear missile. The missile was stopped, but Janet was lost in the quantum realm forever. When Scott tells Hank and Hope about his vision they take it as a sign that Janet contacted Scott to let them know she is still alive.

Hope breaks Scott out of house arrest so he can help find Janet in the quantum realm. They need Scott and his connection to Janet. At the same time a person known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) wants the technology developed by Hank and Hope. Ghost is quantumly destabilizing and will die soon if she doesn’t find a cure. She needs Hank’s technology to find that cure.

The best thing about “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the humor. Paul Rudd is his normal goofy and witty self. Michael Pena returns in a supporting role as Luis, Scott’s best friend and business partner. Pena somehow manages to make you smile or laugh at everything he says or does.  It’s the kind of silly humor that isn’t hurtful or mean, it’s just funny. Rudd and Pena are a great team, even if they aren’t in many scenes together.

The humor in the movie is very reminiscent of the first movie. In fact, the entire movie reminded me of the original “Ant-Man,” and a few years from now it will be difficult to distinguish between the two movies. If you liked the first movie, you will like “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”

The film boasts an all-star cast. Film legends like Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer figure prominently. Paul Rudd is an established star, especially in comedies. Michael Pena and Evangeline Lilly are established stars, but they are still on the rise in Hollywood. Overall, it’s an excellent ensemble cast.

Granted, it is a superhero movie about a man who shrinks to the size of an ant, but many things about the movie are either too ridiculous or make no sense at all. For instance, how could Janet Van Dyne be alive 30 years later with no food or water in the quantum realm? And a giant ant, who doesn’t look even remotely real, playing the drums is a little too much.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” isn’t a movie about the fate of the free world. It’s a nice, funny story about a personal adventure for a few characters with a cliffhanger ending in the mid-credits scene. If you liked “Ant-Man,” this movie is almost identical.

• • •

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence.

A Refreshing Knapp – Election Day is near

By Ray Knapp

Are you tired of political robocalls? All things come to an end and on Election Day, the 2nd of August, you will hear your last ones for a while. The recent groups of graduating high school seniors know the meaning of “oxymoron, paradox and antithesis” – so do politicians, and frequently use all three leading up to election day through these unsolicited calls.

“Oxymoron” is a self-contradicting word or group of words. For example: Unicoi County’s tax base is shrinking while tax hikes are looming. Or, maybe the word for that should be “paradox,” which is a statement or argument that seems to be contradictory or to go against common sense, but that is yet perhaps still true. For example the almost completed million dollar Trail Tunnel that runs under the highway to Fishery Park, in my opinion is an expensive and needless endeavor, yet – I may be wrong. I have been told, “We got a grant for that.” Well, that’s true, $885,000, but if I recall right, Erwin had to kick in about 20 percent in matching funds. And even grant money comes from taxes. The state or federal government don’t issue grant money from thin air. Or, do they? The question about grant money coming from out of nowhere may be an oxymoron and not a paradox.

As far as the tax base shrinking: That Census I complained of having to fill out in 2017 determined nearly a thousand taxpayers coming off the rolls in Unicoi County from 2010. Some of that was likely due to the closing of the railroad yard and subsequent loss of about 250 jobs.

On the bright side, one thing the county is doing for dogs is purchasing some land for a dog park, where, on a day’s outing, you can take your house dog and let it roam free with other dogs. I’m sure the dogs and their owners will enjoy it – at taxpayer expense.

I don’t often argue with people, but in one column I mentioned the RISE Erwin Group that sponsored the colorful little elephant sale last year and gave the profits to the elephant sanctuary over in Hohenwald, Tennessee – I stated: That was quite thoughtful and generous. But a fellow recognized me at a local store and disagreed. He said he liked what the group was doing, but the money should have been given to the poor in Unicoi County, not to a bunch of worn out elephants. I pointed out it wasn’t tax money. I wonder what his thoughts are about our tax money being spent on a dog’s playground and not being given to the poor.

Churches, and non-profit groups, like the Kiwanis, Ruritan and many others work hard to help the poor. There are several government programs for the poor – and while it is not often true; some people wouldn’t be poor if they would work, instead of looking for handouts.

On the bright side, a couple of new businesses; one that builds yard sheds and another which builds Kayaks will soon be welcomed to the county – adding two or three dozen jobs to our ailing economy.

We don’t expect our political leaders to make everyone happy with the stewardship of our taxes, the walking trail, for instance, does add to the quality of life in the county for a few, and I may take my pup to the dog park one of these days.

While we all complain and have different ideas about how our tax money is spent, we need to think things through by the use of political parallel language; this is known as “Antithesis.” Like, “action, not words,” or as President John F. Kennedy once said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

That last sentence especially applies to those running for any political position; county, state, or federal. Before you vote, do some research, and think of this “paradox:” Sometimes a newcomer who doesn’t know all the political ropes, or where is office is located if he won, may be your best representative and spend your taxes more wisely than a seasoned politician.

Adam’s Apples – Coal Miner’s Newphew

By James Mack Adams

It was in 1946 that country singer, Merle Travis, wrote a song about Kentucky coal miners. He gave it an appropriate title, “Sixteen Tons.” The song has been recorded by several artists, but the best known and most popular version is the one recorded in 1955 by Tennessee Ernie Ford. It is the one that rose to the top of the Billboard charts.

It was in 1970 that country music legend, Loretta Lynn, recorded an album featuring what was to become her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

I haven’t written a song about it yet, but I am a nephew of Southwest Virginia and Kentucky coal miners. So, I know a little about what Merle and Loretta are saying in their song lyrics. I was a youngster during much of the time when coal was king in that part of the country, but I became very familiar with the lifestyles of my coal-miner uncles. And yes, I remember the company store.   

Those were the days before machines started doing much of the heavy mine work. The primary tools of the coal miner of the 1930s and early 1940s were a pick and a shovel. The coal was dug out of the mountain with the pick, and the shovel was used to load the loosened coal into waiting coal cars. The cars were then moved to the mine entrance where the coal was loaded onto trucks. At least a portion of a miner’s weekly pay was determined by the number of cars he loaded.

I was never allowed inside the mine with my Uncle Claude, but I recall his daily routine when he got home from work. His coal-blackened face and hands made him almost unrecognizable. After bathing in a galvanized tub filled with hot water heated on the kitchen stove, he would sit down for supper. After eating, he would take out the small notebook and pencil stub he carried in his overalls pocket and record the number of cars he loaded that day. If there were some daylight left, he would likely then do some farm chores.

Another uncle, Uncle John, went to work each day carrying an old dented metal lunch bucket. That lunch bucket fascinated me as a child. I loved to finish off any food he had left in the bucket when he got home. Uncle John knew this and would always save a hardened jelly biscuit for me. I considered it a treat.

One line from the song, “Sixteen Tons,” is “Saint Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.” The company store was owned and operated by the coal company. Miners were required to buy some of their own work supplies and equipment, such as the carbide they used to light the open-flame lamps on their hard hats. Guess where they had to purchase these items required to do their jobs. You guessed it … the company store.  The company store was also a source for some food and household items.

Saturdays were paydays at the mines. The miners were usually paid in cash, or partly in scrip. Scrip was a legal money substitute that could only be spent one place. You guessed it … at the company store.

Saturdays were busy and bustling days in my little town. After drawing their weekly pay, the miners and their families would come to town for the day. The wife would shop at Woolworth’s or the town’s only department store. The kids would be given a quarter to go to the movie theater where they would spend most of the afternoon watching a double feature, a serial, previews of upcoming movies, and a collection of cartoons. The miner, if he were so inclined, might have headed to the pool hall or tavern to down a few cold ones while socializing with buddies and listening to his favorite hillbilly tunes coming from the jukebox.

Miners often sacrificed their health to pursue their chosen occupation. Two of my uncles later developed an occupational illness named Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis (CWP), better known as Black Lung. Another uncle lost a leg in a mine accident.

Regardless of the hard labor, as well as the health and safety hazards involved with coal mining, I never heard my uncles express regret about their choice of jobs. Not long after my Uncle John became ill with black lung and retired, I asked him if he would go back to work in the mine if he had a chance. Without hesitation he replied: “I would start Monday morning.”

Movie Night – Fans of original will enjoy ‘Sicario’ sequel

By Bradley Griffith

The original “Sicario” may not have been a huge hit like the original “Jurassic World,” but it was a great movie. It boasted a star-studded cast of Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, along with a great story and great drama. Brolin, Del Toro, and the great story return for a second adventure in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” now in theaters.

A series of horrific suicide bombs are detonated in a grocery store in Kansas City. Fifteen people die in the massacre, including two young children. The FBI links at least one of the bombers to a Mexican drug cartel who illegally transported the bomber across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The response of the U.S. government is to deem the drug cartels terrorist organizations. That means that the full weight of the United States military can be brought to bear on the cartels.  But the military needs a way to get the war started, they need a man who can work behind the scenes in covert action to support any overt action taken by the military. The Pentagon needs someone who can rattle the cages of the cartels. The Secretary of Defense turns to Matt Graver (Josh Brolin).

Graver is a CIA operative who is known as a guy who gets things done, a guy who you keep on a tight leash or he will go too far. This time the government is turning Graver loose with no leash. He is free to do whatever he deems necessary to destroy the cartels. No rules. 

Graver decides that the best way to inflict real damage on the cartels is to cause a war between the cartels. Graver knows exactly who he needs for a mission inside Mexico with no rules. Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) was Graver’s secret weapon in the original story. This time Alejandro will take the lead in causing a major war between cartels.

If you are a fan of the first movie, you will like “Day of the Soldado.” Two of the major actors return (though the absence of Emily’s Blunt’s character was a disappointment) for another battle against the Mexican drug cartels, only this time the cuffs are off. Graver and Alejandro are the perfect men for such a mission.

Brolin and Del Toro once again deliver consummate performances in their roles, but it’s a different role that I believe was the most important in making “Day of the Soldado” a quality movie. Taylor Sheridan returned as the writer of “Day of the Soldado.” Sheridan is one of the top young writers in Hollywood with movies such as “Wind River,” “Hell or High Water,” and “Sicario” and new TV show “Yellowstone” under his belt. He creates drama and tension with his writing that is almost unique in modern-day filmmaking. Sign me up for anything that involves Taylor Sheridan.

“Day of the Soldado,” like its predecessor, is not an action movie. For sure, there are sporadic action scenes throughout the movie, and when these scenes come they are fast and furious. But “Day of the Soldado” is more of a slow-burn drama than anything else. The story builds on itself little by little and ratchets up the tension with each successive scene. Some may say the pace was slow, but I thought it was intense.

Josh Brolin is becoming a true superstar. His movies released this year alone include “Avengers: Infinity War” (where he played Thanos), “Deadpool 2,” and “Day of the Soldado.”  He was also excellent in one of my favorite movies, “No Country for Old Men.” But it seems that at age 50 he is hitting his stride and Hollywood recognizes the emergence of a superstar when it sees one.

Likewise, it also appears that Benicio Del Toro is in a groove of his own actor. Del Toro was in one of my favorite movies, “The Usual Suspects,” but at age 51 he was also in “Avengers: Infinity War” and was previously in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” These two actors seem to get better as they get older.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is not as good as the first movie, but sequels rarely are. Still, “Day of the Soldado” is an excellent adult movie of the type that would normally be released in the fall.

• • •

Grade: A-

Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language.

Hood’s Winks – Dog Wars!

By Ralph Hood

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Ralph’s book, “Southern Raised in the Fifties.”

My father was the school superintendent in Brunswick, Georgia, for decades. Most everybody called him R. E. Hood—we called him Daddy.

Daddy is remembered by many as a dignified man. His uniform was a business suit, complete with hat and walking stick. His manner bordered on southern courtly. (He also kept an unlit cigar in his mouth, but we won’t go into that.)

On the other hand, he was in many ways unconventional to the point of eccentricity. For example, Daddy kept a running war going with dogs. As far as I know, the dogs were quite unaware of the war. No dog ever bit him, and I saw no evidence that dogs bore him any ill will. Still, he was eternally convinced that all dogs were out to get him.

Daddy rode an adult three-wheeled tricycle around in his later years. He said it was for exercise; I rather suspect it was primarily a continuance of his “War On Dogs.”

Daddy’s tricycle was a virtual arsenal of anti-dog weaponry. He had, so help me, an umbrella, mace spray, and electric cattle prod on that vehicle. The umbrella was his first line of defense. His chosen technique was to point umbrella at dog, then open and close umbrella rapidly. Most dogs fled in confusion at such a sight, and Daddy enjoyed it immensely. I don’t remember that Daddy ever had to use the rest of the arsenal, and I think he was right disappointed about that.

Once upon a time, Daddy stayed at the home of old friends in the Washington, D.C. area. On his arrival, he was horrified to learn that he was to share the house with two huge Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs.

I never saw those dogs, but to hear Daddy tell it, they breathed fire, drooled blood, and were trained to kill. By bedtime, Daddy was convinced that only his constant vigilance kept him alive. He bolted his bedroom from the inside, and probably wedged a chair under the doorknob.

Before telling the rest of this story, I should point out that it is not necessary to be in danger to be terrified. It is only necessary to believe oneself to be in peril. It is the belief, not the real risk, that strikes terror in the mortal heart.

In the middle of the night, Daddy was awakened by a call of nature. He carefully opened his door, peered up and down the hall, and ascertained that the dogs were not in the immediate vicinity. He then made a run for the bathroom.

Daddy swore to his dying days that the two dogs had been lying in ambush, just waiting for an opportunity. He heard them overtaking him from behind, panting in hot bloodlust, determined to do him bodily harm with malice aforethought.

Daddy bolted through the bathroom door, slammed it behind him, and turned around. To his horror, the woman of the house was sitting on the toilet!

Now hear this—Daddy did not leave! He apologized to the lady, turned to the wall and stood there until she finished. Then she, not he, left the room. As Daddy explained it to me, “Goshamighty, boy, it was a matter of life or death.”

Movie Night – ‘Jurassic World’ sequel has great special effects

By Bradley Griffith

Sequels are generally a hit or miss proposition. They are usually great or truly terrible.  “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is neither. It’s not nearly as good as its predecessor or the original “Jurassic Park” movie, but it’s not terrible either. The movie is a typical summer blockbuster film filled with action, outrageous stunts and great special effects.

The theme park from “Jurassic World” is in tatters and has been abandoned. The jungle and the remaining dinosaurs are reclaiming the island of Isla Nublar. But the biggest problem is that the formerly dormant volcano on the island is now active. Small eruptions are happening on a frequent basis, with the specter of an island destroying eruption occurring at any time.

In the United States, a heated debate is raging across the country. Do dinosaurs deserve to be preserved like any other animal on the endangered species list, or should the dinosaurs become extinct once again when the volcano blows? Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former operations manager of Jurassic World, has created a non-profit group to help secure the safety of the dinosaurs.

Claire is hired by the estate of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to help rescue the remaining dinosaurs and relocate them to another island where they can live out their lives in peace. The only issue for Claire is that she needs someone to help her who knows how dinosaurs think and that has a history of controlling dinosaurs. In short, she needs Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).

Owen trained the Velociraptors of Jurassic World to follow his commands. Blue was the leader of the Raptor pack and is the only Raptor still alive. Claire needs Owen to help capture Blue so they can relocate him to safety. When they arrive on the island they are introduced to the real truth behind this expedition. A group of mercenaries has been hired to capture one of each of the species of living dinosaurs and get DNA from those dinosaurs that are dead. These mercenaries don’t care about the animals or what will happen to them, only about their payday.

I wanted to be wowed and amazed by “Fallen Kingdom.” Its predecessor was a surprise both in terms of quality of the film and at the box office. It remains the best of the Jurassic Park series of movies. But even though I wanted to be amazed and wanted to love “Fallen Kingdom,” it didn’t rise to the level of “Jurassic World.”

“Fallen Kingdom” brought back the two main stars in Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. The movie returned the action (for the first part of the movie) to Isla Nublar. It returned your favorite dinosaurs, including the Velociraptor and T-Rex. But it just didn’t capture the same movie magic that was found in “Jurassic World.”

First of all, the story was a little contrived. It was obvious from the beginning that there was something rotten at the estate of Benjamin Lockwood and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Claire was being duped and blinded by her passion for saving the dinosaurs. I won’t spoil the story for you, but the reason for capturing the dinosaurs and bringing them back to the United States was, well, stupid. It felt like the movie was rushed to theaters to take advantage of the huge box office of the previous movie. Unfortunately, the story suffered.

There were good aspects of the movie.  In addition to the great actors, great action scenes and great production of the movie, the special effects were flawless. I don’t know how the filmmakers did it, but it appeared that the dinosaurs were real and were right there with the actors on screen. The deadliest dinosaur ever was created for this movie. The Indoraptor is a combination of the Indominous Rex from “Jurassic World” and a Velociraptor. Not only was it deadly, but it also looked evil.

It should be no surprise that “Fallen Kingdom” excelled in the action scenes and disappointed in the story. It should also be no surprise that at the end the T-Rex is still the king of the dinosaurs, or that another Jurassic World movie is in the works.

• • •

Grade: B

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science fiction violence and peril.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Food nourishes, nurtures

By Connie Denney

You don’t have to be Italian to enjoy Italian food. Think specifically about the basil and olive oil mixture we like to sop with crusty bread while waiting for a meal. You don’t have to speak Italian to enjoy pesto; but, homemade by an Italian friend, it makes me want to say “mama mia”!

This premier pesto producer is neighbor Dee. With her permission, I’m sharing a bit about her life and, joyously, her pesto recipe!

Dee Donzella Riddle began life in Tarrytown, New York, (think Legend of Sleepy Hollow), and has lived in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, as well as Tennessee. Her grandparents came to this country from Italy and Sicily around the turn of the century. Her Mother’s Father was a head gardener for the Nelson Rockefeller family.

Dee remembers as a small child seeing her Grandpa’s peach trees, tomatoes and lots of basil. “Growing up, all our family gatherings were spent around my Mother’s extra large dining room table. She had lots of Grandma’s recipes and from an early age, probably around seven or eight, I learned how to make pasta.” Dee and her Mom spent Saturday mornings making pasta and sauce.

“We always had basil in the backyard. I was tasked with picking just the right leaves for the sauce. My Father to this day, at 94 years old, will pick a leaf and sit on my front porch contently smelling its intoxicating fragrance.”

During the latter part of her Mother’s life when fear and confusion were so disconcerting, Dee recalls how turning back the pages of time and a cookbook or two were a positive distraction.  The strong bond of tradition and food includes the catering business her Mom started in the 90s.  Dee and husband James, also from an Italian family, helped.

They have enjoyed cooking together since they were dating. Calling theirs a “match made in heaven,” Dee says they gave themselves a six-quart KitchenAid stand mixer as an anniversary gift! They carry on traditions with their family, including four grandkids, ages 5-7, who also can make pasta.

Dee’s 27-year career in senior management at a Miami Beach resort hotel exposed her to “many fine dining experiences,” as well as opportunities to learn from chefs flown in from Italy. She speaks of learning to make “the perfect pesto” and “how the finest ingredients could make a dish sing!”

I sure like the flavor notes her pesto adds to bread or pasta, tomato sandwiches, pizza, salad, baked potato….  Need I go on?                    


2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil first cold pressed (very important for the right flavor)

1/3 cup pine nuts (may use chopped walnuts as a substitute but pine nuts are the best)

2 garlic cloves

Salt to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese

Put all ingredients except the cheese in a food processor and process until smooth. Pour the sauce into a small bowl and stir in the cheese. Makes one cup of pesto. Keep refrigerated. Freezes well.

Note: Pesto should always be served at either room temperature or chilled. If adding to pasta, remove the pasta from the heat first. This will preserve the taste and color of the pesto.

Movie Night – Reviewer not impressed with ‘Annihilation’

By Bradley Griffith

Many people rely on the trailers for movies to decide whether a movie is worth their time and money (except for people like you who read these reviews). Usually your first instinct is the correct one. I thought the trailer for “Annihilation” looked terrible. I should have trusted my gut.

As the movie opens Lena (Natalie Portman) is being debriefed in a secure location by government representatives. Lena is under quarantine. Her interrogator is decked out in full hazmat gear to safely talk to her. Lena tells her story about how she made it to this room.

Lena’s husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), is a soldier in a United States Army special forces unit. He is called away to a location that he can’t reveal on a mission that he can’t speak of, even to his own wife. Kane doesn’t return from this mission. Despite Lena’s best efforts, she can’t get any information about her husband from the military. 

Nearly a year after he disappeared, Kane shows up at their home out of the blue. He begins acting very strange. He can’t remember where he went or how he made it home. He suddenly becomes very ill. He and Lena are in the back of an ambulance headed to a hospital when they are forced off the road and taken to a secret government facility known only as Area X.

Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a psychologist and is in charge of Area X. She explains to Lena that Kane had been sent with an entire unit into something known as the shimmer. A meteorite had impacted at a lighthouse near the coast. Shortly thereafter a shining mist-like phenomenon began to spread with the lighthouse at its center. They called this area the shimmer.

Kane’s team had been sent into the shimmer and only Kane returned. Lena, a biologist and former soldier, volunteers to enter the shimmer with the next team of explorers. She wants to investigate the shimmer and maybe find a cure for her husband’s illness.

Natalie Portman is such a good actor that it’s hard to believe that she was in such a bad movie. In fact, from Oscar Isaac to Tessa Thompson to Gina Rodriguez, there are several fine actors in this bad movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh turned in an awful performance at the emotionless and rigid Dr. Ventress. Her acting was the very definition of a wooden performance.

The parts of the story described above may seem somewhat intriguing, but trust me when I tell you that “Annihilation” goes downhill as soon as they enter the shimmer, the part where the movie should get better. I know it’s based on a popular book that is supposedly beloved a by a certain portion of the population, but the plot goes haywire once the team goes into the shimmer. The movie become ridiculous and the special effects of what they encounter in the shimmer were terrible.

The filmmakers seemed to want to create a certain tone that lasted throughout the movie. The background music and soundtrack were unusual and, I suppose, were intended to intensify the vibe of the movie. The vibe was one of trepidation and lurking menace, a strategy that works well when the movie follows through on its promise, unlike “Annihilation.”

The climax of the movie, which occurs chronologically before Lena is telling her story about exploring the shimmer, is one of the strangest things I have ever seen in a movie. I won’t spoil it for those of you who want to waste your money renting this movie at home, but you’ll know it when you see it.

I read one article that listed “Annihilation” as one of the top 10 movies of the year, an honor I would not bestow on this movie if only five films had been released this year. If you are a true hard-core sci-fi fan you may enjoy “Annihilation,” everyone else should stay far away.

• • •

Grade: D-

Rated R for violence, bloody images, language, and some sexuality.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Summer is here – and I can’t wait

By Lisa Whaley

This will be my first summer spent in Erwin.  And though rain is pouring down as I write this, I can’t help but be full of anticipation.

There is no summer, I believe, like a small town summer.

I grew up in a tiny town of 300, and I still love to think back to those lazy days of childhood. Of course, lazy definitely applied more to the mood than an actual lack of activity.

Instead, summer meant up and out, exploring neighborhoods, forging friendships and enjoying family.

Divided in the middle by a highway, Touchet (that really was its name) had one K-12 school, one grocery store, one restaurant, two churches, Rusty & Myrt’s grill and a “watering hole,” actually named  “The Watering Hole.”

In addition to beverages, they were known for their wide selection of candy bars. Rusty & Myrt’s had great ice cream treats.  (All these details were vitally important to a child in the warmer months of June, July and August.)

Each summer, in this tiny town,  my friends and I would climb aboard our bicycles and set out in search of adventure. Wind blowing in our hair, we cruised down Gardena hill with what seemed to be supersonic speeds, waded in the cold waters of the Touchet River, uncovered hidden tunnels in fields of wild shrubbery and discovered treasures on the site of the old town mercantile.

There were precious days at Vacation Bible School and family cookouts complete with games of badminton or croquet. And there were those moments simply to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the joy in being alive.

Now, I have a whole new town to explore for the summer, and I can’t wait to get started. I’m also intrigued by the Valley Beautiful’s wealth of waterfalls, parks and historic sites.

I want to walk along Main Street savoring an ice cream cone from What’s the Scoop, enjoy a summer movie at the Capitol Theater, and find the freshest produce at Tuesday’s Farmers Market.

And that is just the beginning of my plans. If you have any suggestions for the list, please email me at I would love to hear from you.

I also encourage you to make your own list to help you savor the season. Though I’m just beginning to sample a Unicoi County summer, I am convinced this may be one of my best summers yet. After all, all the ingredients are here — a beautiful location, a plethora of opportunities and, most important of all, some of the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever met.

A Refreshing Knapp – Old Glory

By Ray Knapp

Some players in the National Football League recently protesting the National Anthem by kneeling while it was sung, has caused a lot of controversy – negative for the most part. To quell the national condemnation, the National Football League revised the Game Operations manual to ensure all players, on the field, to stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.

With Flag Day just past (June 14) and Independence Day arriving a week from today, I thought it would be appropriate to give a little history on its origin; what it stands for, and observance. Of course, we learned in the first grade that Betsy Ross made the first flag and was also credited with giving the United States its name. History researchers dispute both those things. The only thing on written record was given to the Pennsylvania Historical Society in 1870 by Betsy’s grandson. Some of his papers described the first flag the way it is usually depicted with 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 white, five-pointed stars, arranged in a circle in the upper right corner of the flag on a blue canton.

I’ve heard some people say: I bet that school kids today don’t know the first thing about the Flag, National Anthem, or Pledge of Allegiance. These 3 things are our national symbols – the symbols which keep us together as the United States and as one nation. I had to see what Tennessee’s School Code said.

It read (in part): “49-6-1001. Flag Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. (a.) All boards of education shall direct and all teachers employed by the public schools shall give instructions to the pupils of the schools, and shall have the pupils study as a part of the curriculum, the uses, purposes and methods of displaying the American flag and other patriotic emblems, and the history and usage of the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. (b.) In recognition of the civic heritage of the United States of America, all students shall be required to learn the Pledge of Allegiance and to demonstrate such knowledge.

(c.) Each board of education shall require the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in each classroom in the school system in which a flag is displayed.”

That came as a surprise, as I noted at public events, many people were unsure of what to do, nor knew the words to the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, there always seems to be those few that appear oblivious to what’s going on; talking, laughing, or walking about as the National Anthem is sung and the Pledge of Allegiance is being recited. In opposition to this, Tennessee’s stand on reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is: “if for religious or other beliefs, no person will be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; however, they shall set or stand quietly and not disrupt the proceedings.”

Procedures when observing the National Anthem, or during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag, or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are not complicated. Civilians are to stand (if able); remove their hat; place the hat or right hand over their heart during these proceedings. In recent years there have been some changes in paying respect to the flag by veterans. (Veterans and Saluting Out of Uniform) A provision of the 2009 Defense Authorization Act changed federal law to allow U.S. veterans and military personnel not in uniform to render the military hand-salute when the national anthem is played. This change adds to a provision which was passed in the 2008 Defense Bill, which authorized veterans and military personnel in civilian clothes to render the military salute during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag. Most veterans are aware of this, but many who have not been in the military are not.

The flag does not belong to any one American, but to all Americans. To most, a feeling of national pride is felt when we hear the National Anthem and its closing words about Old Glory: “Oh long may it wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

Movie Night – Willis’ ‘Death Wish’ filled with plot holes

By Bradley Griffith

“Death Wish” is the 2018 re-make of the 1974 cult classic film of the same name starring Charles Bronson. Bruce Willis takes the reins from Bronson as the main character of the story. If you liked the original movie, or even if you didn’t, do yourself a favor and do not pay good money to see the remake.

Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a trauma surgeon in Chicago. He lives a normal life for a trauma surgeon, meaning he lives in relative luxury. He and his wife, Lucy (Elisabeth Shue, and daughter, Jordan (Camilla Marrone), live in a very nice suburban home. Jordan will leave for college soon and Paul and Lucy will have to deal with an empty nest. The family lives a comfortable life away from all the violence that has been plaguing Chicago.

Until one night, on Paul’s birthday, his entire world is destroyed. Just before they were set to leave for his birthday dinner Paul is called back to the hospital for an emergency. Three men who thought the family would be out celebrating Paul’s birthday enter their house. Unfortunately, Lucy and Jordan fought back against the attackers.

Paul finishes with the surgery he was called in to perform and finds that his wife and daughter have been brought into the hospital with gunshot wounds. One has already passed away and the other is on life support.

Paul is not the kind of guy to take the law into his own hands. He doesn’t even own a gun. But after he stops two men from assaulting a woman in an alley (and is beaten for his trouble), Paul gets an idea. Violence is skyrocketing in Chicago and no one seems to be able to do anything to stop it. The police are making no headway in their investigation into the attack and robbery of Paul’s family. Paul decides to take matters into his own hands. He steals a gun from a gangbanger at his hospital and sets out to exact revenge on those who attacked his family, and any other criminal that crosses his path.

First of all, this may be the worst acting performance of Bruce Willis’ career. I would say that I’m not sure he can believably portray a trauma surgeon, except I am certain that he can’t. He has absolutely no emotional range. Even though one member of his family is murdered and the other is in a coma on life support, Willis looks like he is having just another day at the office. He should be devastated, but acts as if nothing is wrong.

Willis is much better at the vigilante role than the trauma surgeon or devastated father and husband role. Once the movie turns to Willis seeking vengeance it gets a little better, but not much. Bruce Willis with a gun in his hand is much more believable than Bruce Willis with a scalpel in his hand. The best part of the movie is the debate over whether the unknown vigilante is a hero or no better than the criminals he is killing.

Willis is not the only actor who seemed to be mailing in their performance. Vincent D’Onofrio as Paul’s brother and Dean Norris (Hank from “Breaking Bad”) as the lead detective into the attacks at the Kersey home were also pretty bland. If the product on the screen is any indication, the actors knew this was going to be a bad movie, they were just there for a paycheck.

The story wasn’t much better than the acting. Movies about revenge should pretty much write themselves. Instead, “Death Wish” was filled with so many plot holes that the entire movie was unbelievable. Also, the story created no tension. Even the climax of the movie was uneventful. If a movie about shooting and killing can be boring, this was it.

It’s unusual for a movie about vengeance to have no real emotional center, to not make you angry and emotional. Despite the subject matter, “Death Wish” is not only boring, it has no heart.


Grade: C-

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.

Adam’s Apples – Old teachers never die

By James Mack Adams

In his farewell address before a combined session of the United States Congress on April 19, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur said: “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.”  Perhaps the same can be said for old school teachers. Being one of those old school teachers, I hope that is true.

A teacher’s legacy is his or her students. If you are reading this column, thank a teacher. If you can balance a checkbook successfully, thank a teacher.

Every time I power up the laptop to write a column or to work on any other writing project, I pay silent homage to my public-school English and Latin teachers. They mercilessly drilled their students on grammar, spelling, pronunciation, sentence structure and writing.  What I thought at the time was sure torture bordering on child abuse was well worth it. Over my lifetime, I have enjoyed the benefits.

My public-school teachers had such an influence on my life I can still remember the names of several of them. I remember Edith Cherry, Frances McCoglin, Lucille Whitmire, Lennie Blankenship, Rhoda Burke, Grace Elmore and others. I can also visualize their appearances.  They have all been gone for many years, but they live on in my memory. In my thinking, they never died. They just faded away.

The majority of my elementary and high school teachers were female and unmarried. That was just how it was in the teaching profession at the time. My first male teacher was the high school football coach. Their students were their families. Teaching was their calling and their life. They were for certain not in it for the pay or benefits.      

I entered the teaching profession later in life than most. My undergraduate degree from ETSC (now U) is in business administration. A teaching career was never a consideration during those early years.

Following six years active military service, I went to work for the state of Ohio as an administrative specialist in the data processing division and planned to follow that career path the rest of my working life. Then the Ohio Department of Education, and my schoolteacher wife, stepped in to convince me to change my plans.

In the 1960s, the Ohio governor and legislature began an ambitious state-wide program to make vocational education available to every student who wanted it. During the following decade, they built large vocational high schools and technical colleges throughout the state.

The new schools had to be staffed with teachers who were experienced and skilled professionals and tradespeople from many occupations. Most did not have college degrees.  They were required to earn degrees and qualify for full state teacher certification within a certain period of time after being hired.

My teacher wife, and others, encouraged me to apply for a teaching position in a new school being built in a nearby county. I was hired as a teacher of computer and related technologies and followed the profession until my retirement 22 years later. I have never regretted my choice.

U. S. Marines I have known insist there is no such thing as a former marine. “Once a marine, always a marine,” they say. I will say the same for teachers. “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” Many long-retired teachers just can’t seem to stop teaching. It is a common condition among members of the profession. I am a prime example. It is perhaps, in part, the reason I became a history reenactor and living history interpreter after leaving the classroom.

As a teacher, journalist and former monthly community newspaper editor, I have always been a word person. The aforementioned drilling by my English teachers is partly to blame. I have an uncontrollable urge to edit everything I read for spelling and grammar.  That includes newspapers, billboards and all other publicly displayed signs. During my teaching years, one of my favorite things to do when I got home from school on Thursday afternoons was to read the local weekly newspaper and circle the errors with my red pen.

If you have read many of my columns that appear in this space once a month, you know that at times I switch to my teacher mode. I plead no contest. Please bear with me. That is just part of who I am. It is part of my being.

I am reminded of another saying about teachers I once either read or heard. A play on General MacArthur’s words as it were. It might just bring a parting chuckle to the reader?

“Old teachers never die. They just lose their class.”

If you ever see that happening to me, please let me know.

‘Ocean’s 8’ offers respite from summer action films

By Bradley Griffith

Good sequels to good movies (and who wants a sequel to a bad movie) are inherently difficult to make. It’s very difficult to recapture the magic of the original. “Ocean’s Eleven” was a good-bordering-on-great movie, but its previous sequels were not very good. “Ocean’s 8” is better than the other sequels, but not even close to the original.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is in prison for a crime she did commit. That doesn’t mean she is happy about it or that she won’t get her revenge on the person who set her up to take the fall for selling fraudulent goods. Like her brother Danny Ocean, Debbie is a con-artist and thief.  She lives for the thrill of a well-planned and executed heist for big money.

Debbie has had five years in prison to plan her next job. She has played every possible contingency and scenario in her mind many times and knows without a shadow of a doubt how to run the heist and how to make it work. The only things she needs to pull off the job are parole, a crew of seven women and $20,000.

Debbie is let out of prison on parole and quickly reverts to her old ways. She contacts her partner and best friend Lou (Cate Blanchett). They gather a crew of five more women, Amita (Mindy Kaling), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Constance (Awkwafina), Nine Ball (Rihanna), and Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter). These women have the different skills and specialties that Debbie needs.

The job is to steal a diamond necklace from Cartier that is valued at $150 million. Their plan is to convince Cartier to let famous actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) wear the necklace to the Met Gala, the most exclusive party in the world. The plan is to steal the necklace and replace it with a copy so no one will ever know it’s gone. But, surely the job won’t go as planned.

“Ocean’s 8” is supposed to be a slick and sophisticated heist movie like its predecessors. For the most part, the movie lives up to this billing. The heist itself is complex and daring, with more than one area where the entire scheme could implode. In fact, the plan is needlessly complicated and seems like it would be impossible to execute flawlessly.

The most important aspect of a movie like this is whether the correct mood is set for the entire movie. “Ocean’s 8” tries to capture the vibe that made “Ocean’s Eleven” not only successful, but a classic film. The mood is created not only by the story, but also through the characters themselves. The movie must make you be on the side of criminals, not an easy task to accomplish. The viewer needs to forget that the main characters are criminals and that they should not get away with the theft. 

I never forgot that the main characters in “Ocean’s 8” were actually the bad guys. In “Ocean’s Eleven” the guys were stealing money from a corrupt and crooked casino owner who was a bad person. It’s still not okay to steal from him, but it was at least understood and you rooted for the criminals to succeed. In “Ocean’s 8” they are stealing from Cartier for no reason other than Cartier has a very expensive diamond necklace that Debbie Ocean wants. Not okay. 

I will say that the movie was well cast and that every woman, with maybe the exception of Sandra Bullock, performed superbly in their roles. Bullock’s character seemed oddly devoid of emotion or anything other than a blank stare. The setting of the movie at the Met Gala was a great idea and allowed the filmmakers to add in several cameos by celebrities and a few twists at the end.

While “Ocean’s 8” is technically a sequel, and it could have been a much better movie, at least it provides a short respite from superheroes and giant action movies at the movie theater this summer.

• • •

Grade: B

Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content.

Hood’s Winks – Tourism and natural assets

By Ralph Hood

A recent issue The Erwin Record announced the possibility—perhaps the probability—of a committee to promote tourism under the leadership of Lee Brown. Gosh, I hope that happens.

Unicoi County could benefit highly from a growing tourist industry—without spending a fortune. Let’s promote what we already have on hand: the wonder and beauty of nature.

We already have Rock Creek Recreation Area, Rocky Fork State Park, the world-famous Appalachian Trail (AT)—breathes there a soul who wouldn’t love to say, “I have walked part of the Appalachian Trail?”

On our part of the AT lies the well-known Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel and Outfitter for hikers. Our reputation for welcoming “through-hikers” is also well-known. Wife Gail and I have met through-hikers galore on our brief forays on the AT, and met others at the Steel Rails Coffee House and other establishments (spending money, BTW).

We also have some stunningly beautiful waterfalls and rapids.

These waterfalls may be the first attractions we should promote. Before you laugh, Brevard, North Carolina, has a beautiful brochure with pictures of their surrounding waterfalls. Yes, they do have more waterfalls than we do. On the other hand, we have some beauties and we need to let the world know.

Erwin Kiwanis Club presents a Campfire Program once a week during summer months—absolutely free—at Rock Creek Recreation Area.

Our natural assets have several great advantages:

1) They are already in place

2) They attract nature lovers, who tend to be neat, non-littering people

3) We have professionals already in place and providing kayaking, river rafting and other activities.

4) People who participate in outdoor recreation tend to tell their neighbors all about it—they promote it for us.

Let’s get started!

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Make something – Be a different person

By Connie Denney




Jan Bowden spoke in all caps as she elaborated on the above words, which I had noticed on a sign as I walked by the location of Union St. Gallery, coming soon to the corner of Union Street and Nolichucky Avenue in downtown Erwin.

She spoke by phone from Ohio, where she and husband Vince had, that day, closed the deal selling property where they lived and had a gallery before moving south. But her happiness about that did not account for the level of excitement in her voice as she responded to my question about the sign. “I feel it!” she said.

An artist herself, Jan knows a person may think of art as something “I wish I could do.” If so, she advises:  take a class and be INSPIRED by what you learn.

As for being INFUSED, she talks about color, light, creativity. “Do what makes you feel happy.”  Jan says she can’t paint but that glass offered a way to use color, light and creativity.

The TRANSFORMATION, she says, comes after you make something. You’re a different person. Finding out what it takes to create an item—whether you are ever going to do it again—results in a greater appreciation.

Both Jan and Vince work in metal; Jan also fuses glass. Explaining that her husband has been welding for more than 40 years and was self-employed as a machinist/welder, she says he naturally chose metal as an art form.

“I didn’t know a thing about metal ‘til I met him,” Jan says. Now she has eight years of welding experience. Each has logged 25 years plasma cutting. (This involves cutting metal with a torch using compressed air and electricity, like “drawing on metal.” A clean way to cut metal, it has industrial and art applications.) Jan moved on to fusing or “kiln forming” glass to add color to her work. She’s been at it 12 years.

So it’s that experience they bring to Erwin, with the goal of opening their gallery by the end of July. A lot depends, of course, on the pace of readying the building. (A story in the May 5, 2018, issue of The Erwin Record included information about the gallery.)

The Bowdens will display their own work and want to add other artists’ work in the future. They do art for the garden and home including garden stakes, trellises, gates. Each is one-of-a-kind, cut by hand, not computer-assisted. Sculptures may be appropriate for wall hangings, or cutout designs welded to a base to stand alone. One such piece depicting family members holding hands will grace their home here.

Wanting to help attract folks downtown, Jan looks forward to being open for “Sip N’ Shop” the first and third Friday nights of the month. Otherwise, they plan to open four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday.

Although the Union Street building is not yet ready, plans are in the works for classes. Fused glass classes for beginners with simple projects students can complete in one session, intermediate classes mornings and evenings, something for school-age children, plasma cutting and simple welding to create a finished garden piece are all possibilities. “I have a lot of ideas in the works,” she offers.

Let’s keep an eye on that corner for signs of coming attractions.