↓ Archives ↓

Posts Tagged → actor

“Fall Guy” movie review

I did it, I went and saw a movie at a theater. Notify the media.

Partly out of a commitment to celebrate Mother’s Day in whatever way the Princess of Patience-Mother wanted on her special day, and yes, she wanted to see a movie, and in particular this one. And partly out of an almost morbid fascination with the ever more gruesome demise of Hollywood, its actors, its writers, its physical space (I know it well and have hiked from poopy-needly-trashy West Hollywood up to and through Runyon Canyon and back, many times), its culture, its leaders, etc. In general, Hollywood and its dreck movies, people, and physical space is something I avoid on principle.

But what the heck, for ten bucks I could go see the freak show, and also make my Princess of Patience aka Mother happy.

However, I was pleasantly surprised on this now rare trip to Regal Theaters in Harrisburg. Not only were the theaters clean, the employees friendly and easy, and the fellow movie guests well behaved, the movie itself was actually worth seeing.

Fall Guy” is one of the rare funny, wholesome, entertaining movies to come out of un-natural disaster Hollywood in a long time. If you want to simply be entertained by a movie, without being hectored, lectured, propagandized, indoctrinated, lied to, talked down to, then Fall Guy is for you.

If my rusty memory serves me now, making entertaining movies was really at the core of Hollywood’s business model. Once upon a time. Like fifty years ago or more. With Hollywood both captured/ owned by China now, and also going broke because its actors, writers, et al are at war with America, it was reassuring to see some evidence of sanity there. Someone made this movie to actually appeal to Americans, and make some money along the way.

Fall Guy is done tongue in cheek, deliberately mocking Hollywood and movies in every way, and in one especially (Spoiler Alert) pleasing way: The movie’s two villains are truly villainous, bad, evil people: The silver tongued movie producer, and the secretly dull witted, incompetent high paid big name actor. Ah ha, we knew it already after listening to Robert DeNiro incoherently blab away about politicians and political and cultural issues he doesn’t understand last week, despite the now annual Oscars debacle. But it is nice to see that some people in Hollywood are willing to admit to their sins, in the form of a movie, if not in person.

Fall Guy is about a stunt man who loves a woman on set. He screws up, they get separated, and they end up back together on another movie set. The movie plot deliberately zigs and zags between serving up touchy feely girl feeling scenes that left my head uncontrollably lolling about like my spine had been snatched away from my neck, and death defying action and fight scenes, outstanding stunt scenes, and physical comedy that had me sitting erect in my seat, alert and happy enough to forget all about the sappy girl stuff that had been putting a wooden stake through my heart just moments before.

It is two hours long, which worked fine for me. An evening out should be worth it.

When we left the theater with the other couple also watching Fall Guy, it was well after midnight. The entire Regal Cinemas Theater building was shut down, the lights were out, no other movies were playing, no staff were visible or heard, and we were completely alone. We had the entire place to ourselves. For a moment I had this instinctive impulse to run amok in there, in personally gratifying ways that are not destructive. But alas, I am almost a responsible old guy, and was reminded of this by Mother, bless her matronly always responsible way, who gently led me by the elbow out the front door and into the dark and rainy night on my sudden discontent.

My heart sank when I heard the theater door lock shut behind me. No more fun for you here, the klatch locking sound said. I don’t recall having experienced that feeling at a movie theater in many years.

Congratulations, Hollywood and Fall Guy makers.

DUNE 2 review

Dune captured my young imagination like no other book- not Tolkien’s trilogy, not Starship Troopers, and like Tolkien’s books and Starship Troopers, Dune shaped just about every subsequent sci-fi book, movie, comic book that followed.

Several attempts have been made to capture Dune’s magic in movie form. Prior to the latest two movies, the best known and best produced was the 1984 version with all-star cast Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, Sting, Jose Ferrer, Brad Dourif, Richard Jordan, Patrick Stewart, Jurgen Prochnow, Kenneth McMillan, Sian Phillips, Freddie Jones, Linda Hunt, Jack Nance, and other stellar actors. Look up any of these names and you find a talented lifetime actor with lots of real acting gigs to their credit. And as expected, the 1984 Dune movie was very well acted, much better than the latest versions.

Where the 1984 movie was deficient were some of the special effects, and yet some of its special effects were so good that they are repeated in the latest two Dune movies. Fact is, special effects have really improved since 1984, and of course this is where the 2021+2024 Dune movies shine.

If the 1984 Dune movie struggled to get everything just right and onto the screen in a logical flow, which sometimes left it congested, Dune 2 simply ignores certain critical story elements and throws scenes up on the wall, take them or leave them. There is a lot of character and story development in 1984 Dune that is absent in Dune 2.

One scene I was hoping to see is where Fayd Rautha is confronted by the last three Atreides warriors in his gladiator ring, and one of them is not drugged. That fighter just about kills Fayd in the knife fight. In the book that scene takes time to play out, and one gets the impression that Fayd is too used to mock-fighting drugged opponents who cannot possibly bring their full skills or physical power to bear against him. In Dune 2, Fayd just rolls right over his opponents 1-2-3, and there, it’s done. No suspense, no close calls, no embedded darts being painfully but artfully used as improvised armor against Fayd’s quick blade.

The Mentats are pretty much nowhere to be found in Dune 2, which is odd. Dune makes it clear up front that computers and artificial intelligence were banned from human possession, because the computers tried to kill off all the humans and take over their planets. Which gave rise to the Mentats, human computers whose loyalty is first and foremost to fellow humans. Dune 1984 does an outstanding job showing the central role of the Mentats, whereas Dune 2 has none.

One of the biggest deficiencies in Dune 2 is the final battle between Paul and the Fremen, and the Emperor’s forces. Little of the battlefield set-up is explained in Dune 2, and the action just kind of rolls along. The sand worms show up, but not grandly. Maybe the director expects the audience has prior knowledge of the storyline? Plus there are way too many lasers used in Dune 2, because as we do already know, if a laser hits a personal shield, an atomic explosion happens at both ends, killing both parties. Thus, knives and swords were much more handy. I guess lasers look too cool on the big screen to pass up, even if they are not in keeping with the book.

Or Dune 2 could have incorporated the original “weirding” voice module, the Atreides’ secret weapon that is both super high tech and weirdly organic. Dune 1984 did a great job showing how the weirding module greatly enhanced the Fremen fighting ability, thereby enabling them to take on the fully armed Harkonnens. None of this is in Dune 2, strangely.

The 1984 movie ending is far, far superior to the ending of Dune 2: Paul’s raw power is displayed in his fight with Fayd Rautha, whereas in Dune 2 a lot of stuff just doesn’t make sense. Like how does Fayd stab Paul so many times, and why doesn’t the scene follow the book, which is so good, and why doesn’t Paul cut loose after killing Fayd, crushing him and the stone floor with just his voice, thereby demonstrating his overwhelming physical/mystical messianic power…instead of just kind of standing there looking over his defeated enemies….? Curious minds want to know.

Nothing in Dune 2 shows Paul’s slow discovery and then development of his messianic powers, despite that being the entire purpose of the Dune story. Nine hundred generations of careful breeding and genetic modification were supposed to result in the messiah, who could bend space and time on his own, and in Dune and the 1984 Dune, those responsible for creating Paul are amazed that he actually happened. I am amazed that Dune 2 shows its audience almost none of this important part of the overall story. Paul’s emergence and ascent as the universe’s messianic all-powerful super-being leader is the entire point of Dune. How did it evade the producers of Dune 2?

Dune 2 should have just taken the 1984 film and used every scene, every prop, every script and line, and simply updated the actors and the special effects. Oh well. Opportunity missed.

Well, I paid fourteen bucks to go see a Hollywood movie. First one of 2024 and probably going to be the only Hollywood movie I see this year. Regal Cinemas now has assigned seats, which in theory is a nice thing, and which in the theater itself bore no resemblance to the seating map offered on the computer screen when buying my ticket. I did get to sit up front and enjoy the effect of a full size movie screen, which is a lot of fun. It is a shame the movie was not what I expected, or what it could have been, or should have been.

Nice consolation is that I can watch my 1984 Dune DVD at home, as well as watch the excellent cut scenes on YouTube. Hate to say it, Dune 1984 is in many ways much better than today’s Dune 2, but Dune 2 is worth seeing, if you have any affinity for the Dune story. It’s all fun.

Fayd Rautha (Sting) having fun biting Paul (Kyle MacLachlan) in the 1984 Dune last knife fight

Shen Yun thumbs up review

Somewhere in the time frame of 1971 to 1974, a troupe of Chinese acrobats and dancers put on an incredible performance at Penn State University’s Recreation Hall. Despite having been a wee lad up in the bleachers that evening, I can still now recall moments of their performance with shocking clarity, such were the amazing skill and feats of strength they brought to the American public.

Lots of male and especially female displays of traditional weapons mastery – spears, swords, knives – whose choreography defies even an aged and highly skeptical intellect decades later, as well as incredible and frankly unbelievable balancing + acrobatic + martial arts acts with tea cups and people, bending iron bars that the audience members were invited to try etc etc.

And now looking back, I realize that those early 1970s Chinese performers must have been the last of their kind, or maybe they were exiles, such was the crushing tyranny of Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” aimed at stamping out through murder, torture, and literal destruction of every single thing that had made China China for the past five thousand years. In any event, in Rec Hall that night I had witnessed history.

Well, fast forward about fifty years, and into the intervening gap steps Shen Yun, a modern show about “China Before Communism.” That is, before all that Mao Cultural Revolution communist crap that has destroyed one of the world’s great nations and culture. Begun in 2006, Shen Yun performances have been evolving and growing for the past sixteen years, and now boasts eight geographically dispersed troupes regularly impressing audiences around America. The Princess of Patience and I saw one such troupe in Pittsburgh, PA, this past Sunday, at the historic and beautiful Benedum Theater.

Looky here, I am no theater or musical show kind of guy. So don’t go on reading further here and expecting to encounter the usual aphorisms and adjectives “professional” art and theater critics regularly provide through their Pez dispensers.

What you are about to read is my own unvarnished layman perspective, as told from the guy who almost always falls asleep as soon as the lights go out and the curtain rises, and who is then awakened either by the sharp elbows of the theater goer to my left or by the Princess of Patience to my right. Apparently I think I am not snoring when I sleep in a theater, but in fact I do snore.

Apparently one play was stopped mid-scene while an actor asked someone to stop me from snoring, such was the distraction. What can I say, few theater performances are memorable to me. Men singing…bad. Men dancing in tights and playing dress-up…really bad. Theater and especially musicals and most especially opera are all a refined form of torture. If a play is any good, it will become a movie, which I might see and during which I probably will not fall asleep. My highly educated and experienced opinion here.

But, such is my love for the Princess of Patience, that I bought tickets and took her to see this updated version of whatever it was I had been mesmerized by fifty years ago.

To its credit, Shen Yun kept me awake. We can joke, but that is actually an achievement.

Shen Yun’s scenes or performances are relatively brief, each probably five to seven minutes long, and also varied. That constant change helps keep the audience’s attention focused. The subjects are about traditional Chinese culture, love, war, good vs. evil, history, spirituality, chivalry, family, and the performers wear culturally appropriate dress in each scene. They also have an act about forced organ harvesting, the current real-time inhumane insane crazy can’t believe this is happening actual action of murdering political prisoners and transferring their healthy organs to the unhealthy bodies of Chinese citizens who are “more equal”* than the 99.99% of the Chinese socioeconomically beneath them.

*(George Orwell, author of dystopian novel and a foreshadowing message about the present political situation in both China and America 1984, coined this phrase more equal than others in his other dystopian novel Animal Farm, where the political leader pigs betray the farm animals’ revolution against the humans and go on to corrupt the original commandment that all animals are equal in order to keep their pig selves in unintended, constant, never-ending more equal than others tyrannical mastery over all the other animals)

Something I had not seen before is Shen Yun’s use of a digital screen as the stage backdrop, instead of the traditional painted screen that would form the background for the stage in each scene. Shen Yun uses different digital backdrops, often several different ones, in each scene. They are crisp, clear, and bright. They also allow for cartoon versions of the actors to soar through the air or run away over the horizon. Maybe this is old technology, but it is a first encounter for me, and I liked it.

Things I liked about Shen Yun: The amazing dance, ballet, tumbling, and acrobatic abilities of the professional actors, the incredibly tight and perfectly executed choreography, the superior talent of the live orchestra members, and the bright and flowing costumes that must be a real b#tch to move around in. I liked all the subject matters. The simpler weapons handling wasn’t intended to be anything like the old days, but it adds a nice change to each story and act. The pleasant combining of traditional Chinese music with a modern European/ Western orchestra is very cool.

Things I did not like about Shen Yun: About a third of the acts are repetitious, despite using different costumes and some different choreography, with the same sweeping “windmill” arm motions of the actors in each one. Consider that the one act that brought the loudest applause was about a traditional Tibetan dance, complete with very different moves and costumes. Another thing that irked me was how MC/Announcer Perry’s suit crotch was obviously rumpled. Probably because I am not a regular suit wearer, my eye was immediately drawn to this unprofessional and uncomfortable anomaly. Come on, Perry, your suit must be cleaned and pressed before each performance. Even a knuckle dragging lug like me knows this.

In conclusion, I spoke with half a dozen members of the audience both inside and outside the theater, and everyone liked it. Some appreciated the simple artistic expression, despite not synching with the political, religious, or cultural messages. Others really liked the occasional blips of overt religious messaging, which if I had to guess is some sort of Bhuddist messianism that most Christians can relate to in one way or another. One audience member I spoke with said that she is politically liberal, but that she was not bothered at all by the political or religious aspects of Shen Yun: “I don’t have to agree with it to enjoy it. This is just their own artistic expression and I am here to see it and enjoy it as it is,” she said to me.

Amen.

Benedum Theater is worth visiting just to see the beautiful interior

Benedum Theater ceiling

Benedum Theater interior

If I had a big social function, I would have it at the Benedum Theater. Tons of cozy little nooks like this

If I can’t get front and center seats, I won’t go see an event that has a stage.

Shen Yun audience had everyone old, young, in between, Asian, black, white, purple…

Some parts of Pittsburgh have not been successful. Around the block from this ancient bar and hotel we encountered what had been a recently built very attractive state of the art Martin Luther King, Jr cultural resource center abandoned in an overgrown lot

Pittsburgh smartly employs vehicles powered by clean burning propane

The entire city of Pittsburgh is stunningly beautiful. This one column is representative of the beautiful hand carved stone buildings from the Victorian Age to the 1940s. Thanks to industrialists like the Mellons, Carnegies, Olivers, and Benedums, Pittsburgh is a world hub for architecture and science

Matthew McConaughey = Hollywood Idiot #1,367,189

So an actor named Matthew McConaughey has stepped into the freedom debate, advocating for stripping law-abiding citizens of our Constitutional rights because of what certainly appears to be a remarkably well funded and coordinated attack on the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.

None of what McConaughey advocates for would have stopped the attack, although “hardening” the school would have easily defeated the mysterious gunman. McConaughey did not advocate for hardening public schools. He wants American gun owners to be at the mercy of unaccountable bureaucrats and vindictive neighbors who disagree with private gun ownership, period.

Why the hell does any American in their right mind care what this actor guy says? McConaughey is a paid actor, someone who engages in silly dress-up and make-believe fairy tales for a living. This ain’t rocket science stuff, it is childish. McConaughey is just one more idiot from Hollywood, whose forte is definitely not public policy. And we all know that lawless, goofball, doped up, Marxist Hollywood has been at war with a Constitutional America for fifty years, in any case. So of course people from Hollywood will come up with all kinds of ridiculous policy ideas like McConaughey has.

I for one do not care about McConaughey’s opinions, nor do I care for his acting. Actors are a dime a dozen, generally unimpressive to seriously failed as individuals, and they depend upon the support of their audience to make the ridiculous millions of dollars they get for simply fooling around in front of a camera.

McConaughey has definitely lost a lot of his audience with his publicity stunt. But then again, he probably already has so much money in the bank from ticket-buying gun owners while he has play-acted being a violent gun owner in his movies that he doesn’t have to work for a living.

If only some Hollywood script writer would write this whole farce up into a movie…it would probably make a lot of money as a macabre comedy.

One call I won’t take

Phony, fraudulent telemarketer calls are super annoying, and like you, I am fed up with them.

Another phony call just arrived, called “Call of the Wild,” a new movie loosely based on a Jack London book by the same name.

Jack London’s stories of tenuous life in the Yukon and Alaskan interiors are the stuff of pre-internet American boyhood. Just like coonskin Davey Crockett hats were all the rage among American boys in the 1950s and 1960s after Fess Parker starred in the same-named TV show, so too did London inspire many young men to get their forestry degree, build a canoe, cut down their grandmother’s favorite apple tree with a hatchet, or move to Alaska. His stories of nail-biting survival and creeping or sudden death in the boreal forests and frigid back country rang true, and a number of movies have been made about them. Some better than others, but all of them pretty good just because the story line is great.

London’s story about a young man caught at sundown in the winter time Alaskan bush, unprepared for the minus-forty-degree night, who gets down to his last match and finally succeeds at lighting a life-saving fire, only to have the snow from the branches above fall and smother the fire, is classic.

This latest iteration involves an unrealistic CGI human-like dog that giddy un-wilderness urbanites will fawn over. It also includes Harrison Ford, a man blessed with poor acting skills who nonetheless has landed a huge list of Hollywood roles and who made a huge pile of money. Play acting and playing dress-up; not exactly brain surgeon level or even bank teller level stuff.

And to be fair, Ford’s best movie roles are those that fit his kind of simple, bland, taciturn persona, like the Jack Ryan character, or Indiana Jones, or the emotion-less Blade Runner cyborg cop. Or those roles that are actually enhanced by his lack of acting skills, like Star Wars‘ Han Solo. Whenever Harrison Ford is tasked with actually acting, his lack of nuance or depth shines through bright and shiny. One suspects that this Call of the Wild will be one such role and performance. Or maybe not, because the 2020 movie poster for it shows Ford looking all serious and taciturn.

Now, because I am a wilderness hunter, fisherman, and trapper, any new movie like Call of the Wild immediately gets my attention. Bad acting or no, evil corrupt anti-America Hollywood or no, CGI human dogs or no, it is a movie I would naturally be inclined to go see. It is about nature and outdoor adventure, my favorite things. However, Harrison Ford finally performed honestly the other day and thereby blew up any chance of me seeing his film, and probably many other people feel the same way.

Last week, Ford appeared on not-funny Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show, and blasted Preident Trump, calling him “a son-of-a-bitch.”

Out of nowhere, and for no particular reason. Other than pandering to Hollywood.

What a shame, because at one time Ford was a spokesman for Conservation International, a worthy environment protection organization. His other opinions about so-called climate change and carbon reduction are the usual Hollywood hypocritical hilarity, because Ford is also the guy who flies his own plane on a 400-mile round trip to get a single hamburger to satisfy his craving for fast food. Talk about a carbon footprint, and yet his lecturing never ends.

Now, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and like Ford, I am entitled to mine, too. And my opinion is that I will not support with movie ticket purchases those celebrity Hollywood actors who insult me, my values, my lifestyle, or the people I vote for. So I will not be answering Harrison Ford’s Call of the Wild. Though I might play it on one of the many black market bootleg websites, just so I can take from Ford a tiny bit of what Ford took away from me: A good feeling.

Below is just one video of Harrison Ford actually whining about his wild success, as if it ruined him as some sort of serious artiste. Oh please. Ford is just another out of touch, spoiled rotten Hollywood jerk. Where is comedian Ricky Gervais when we need him most? Every Hollywood actor like Harrison Ford should have to spend a week with Gervais following him or her everywhere they go, commenting on their vapid lives and stupid statements.

Women marching in DC + Hollywood = end of an era

Hollywood had the power of suggestion, once.

Producing movies that highlighted the best of human attributes, the best of Americanism, of small town communities resulted in Americans spending their hard-won dollars for more meaningful entertainment. Heroes sold tickets.

Then came the strictly action genre, still riding on the saddle of good vs. evil Westerns. Still we were on board, as the Soviets really were an evil empire worthy of being blasted out of the sky by Rambo. Heroes had bigger muscles, bigger guns.

Then came the sanctimonious genre, and Hollywood really poured on its power of suggestion. Stretching Americans’ willingness to budge on principle, Hollywood mistakenly comingled emotion with contrary logic. And so here we are, treated to a long line of Hollywood stars openly at war with the very people and fans who made them stars to begin with. Americans still believe in God and the Bible, even if they are willing to look the other way on certain policy issues. But they are not willing to abandon their core beliefs.

Drawing upon my work as a conservationist, this Hollywood pickle reminds me of the faux “Highbridge/Sturbridge/ Scarsdale/ Woodcroft Crossing” – type low-density developments ravaging America’s best farmland, destroying the very beauty which first drew Americans to live in those places to begin with.

The similarity and irony are too much to ignore. A sense of invulnerability and profligate spending of hard-won resources drive this mentality in both models. But whereas America has a lot of open land left to develop, Hollywood can ill afford to burn its bridges and crossings. If Hollywood becomes the permanent home of the goofball aggrieved and whiny upper middle class, it will not sustain itself. Hollywood may say it is against capitalism, but without capitalism, Hollywood ceases.

Perhaps the strangest example of this self destruction is actor Bradley Cooper’s choice to abandon the heroic persona he adopted for American Sniper, and trade it in for open contempt of Donald Trump and support for Crooked Misogynist Hillary. Cooper had a fan base across America rivaling any actor, and then he detonated it. Similarly, Jack Nicholson is a talented actor garnering appreciation for being a chameleon, but who knew until recently that he not only supervised Roman Polanski’s rape of a 13-year-old-girl, but then applauded Polanski years later when he received a Hollywood award in absentia?

Need anything be said about Meryl Streep’s recent hypocrisy? She has been held accountable elsewhere, so we move on here.

These are the acts of clueless people, whose once gentle powers of suggestion once held sway over an American public willing to forgive small differences of opinion, but who are now greatly inflamed by the many acts of war and outright treason committed by their former heroes and heroines.

If you are an actor, whose job it is to pretend to be things and people you are not, then it is highly unlikely you are qualified to comment on anything serious, is what America has learned.

After looking over the signs and placards those marchers carried, and listening to their speeches and bad poetry, I could not help but feel sorry for them. They really do not know what they are protesting.

Oh, sure, they did not vote for Trump. OK. But it is very rare for Americans to protest against the outcome of a fair and square election result. That would be really bad form. Super sore loserish. Wearing suggestive hats isn’t a substantive statement, either. It is juvenile.

The women and men who took to the DC streets Saturday with their Hollywood escorts, protesting God Knows What, are coming from a distant past.

Emerging from their caves, where there was once inequity, to be sure, the America around them today does not square with their views. Take all the updated statistics like, for example, women outnumbering men in American medical schools and law schools. Trying to resurrect the distant past and fuel it with Hollywood’s now over-played power of suggestion just gives us a bigger bonfire on which to watch all of the old vanities burn.

You all can go to bed now. I will be happy to kick the dying embers and watch them blink out into darkness.

Remembering neat people, Part 1

A lot of neat, interesting people have died in the past year or two, or ten, if I think about it, but time flies faster than we can catch it or even snatch special moments from it. People I either knew or admired from afar who changed me in some way.

There are two men who influenced me in small but substantial ways who I have been thinking about in recent days. One of them died exactly ten years ago, and the other died just last year. Funny how I keep thinking about them.

It is time to honor them as best I can, in words.

First one was Charlie Haffner, a grizzled mountain man from central Tennessee. Charlie and I first crossed paths in 1989, when I joined the Owl Hollow Shooting Club about 45 minutes south of Nashville, where I was a graduate student at the time.

Charlie owned that shooting club.

Back before GPS, internet, or cell phones, the world was a different place than today. Dinosaurs were probably wandering around among us then, mmm hmmmmm. Heck, maybe I am a dinosaur. Anyhow, in order to find my way to the Owl Hollow club, first and foremost I had to get the club’s phone number, which I obtained from a fly fishing shop on West End Avenue. Then I had to call Charlie for directions, using a l-a-n-d l-i-n-e, and actually speaking to a person at the other end. You’d think it was Morse Code by today’s standards.

After getting Charlie on the phone, and assiduously writing down his directions from our phone conversation, I had to use the best map I could get and then drive way out in the Tennessee countryside on gravel and dirt roads. Trusting my directional instincts, which are good, and trusting the maps, which were pretty bad, and using Charlie’s directions, which were exactingly precise, I made my way through an alien landscape of small tobacco farms and Confederate flags waving from flagpoles. Yes, southcentral Tennessee back then, and maybe even today, was still living in 1865. Not an American flag to be seen out there by itself. If one appeared, it was either directly above, or, more commonly, directly below the Confederate flag. The Confederate flag shared equal or nearly equal footing with the American flag throughout that region.

Needless to say, when I had finally arrived at the big, quiet, lonesome gun range in the middle of the Tennessee back country, the fact that I played the banjo and was as redneck as redneck gets back home didn’t mean a thing right then. Buddy, I was feelin’…. Yankee, like…well, like black people once probably felt entering into a room full of Caucasians. I felt all alone out there and downright uncomfortable. And to boot, I was looking for a mountain man with a deeeeep Southern drawl, so it was bound to get better. Right?

Sure enough, I saw Charlie’s historic square-cut log cabin up the hill, and I walked up to it. Problem was, it had a door on every outside wall, so that when I knocked on one, and heard voices inside, and then heard “Over here!” coming from outside, I’d walk around to the next door, which was closed, and I would knock again, and go through the process again, and again. Yes, I knocked on three or four of those mystery doors before Charlie Haffner finally stepped out of yet one more doorway, into the sunshine, and greeted me in the most friendly and welcoming manner.

Bib overalls were meant to be worn by men like Charlie, and Charlie was meant to wear bib overalls, and I think that’s all he had on. His long, white Father Time beard flowed down and across his chest, and his long, flowing white hair was thick and distinguished like a Southern gentleman’s hair would have to be. And sure as shootin’, a flintlock pistol was tucked into the top of those bib overalls. I am not normally a shy person, and I normally enjoy trying to get the first words in on any conversation, with some humor if I can think of it fast enough. But the truth is, I was dumbfounded and just stood there in awe of the sight before me.

Being a Damned Yankee, I half expected to be shot dead on sight. But what followed is a legendary story re-told many times in my own family, as Charlie (and his kindly wife, who also had a twinkle in her eye) welcomed me into his home in the most gracious, witty, and insightful way possible.

Over the following two years, I shot as much as a full-time graduate student could shoot out there at Owl Hollow Gun Club, which is to say not as much as I wanted and probably more than I should have. Although my first interest in guns as a kid had been black powder muzzleloaders, and I had received a percussion cap .45 caliber Philadelphia derringer as a gift when I was ten, I had not really spent much time around flintlocks. Charlie rekindled that flame in me there, and it has burned ever since, as it has for tens of thousands of other people who were similarly shaped by Charlie’s re-introduction of flintlock shooting matches back in the early 1970s, there at Owl Hollow Gun Club.

Charlie died ten years ago, on July 10th, I think, and I have thought about him often ever since: His incredible warmth and humor, his amazing insights for a mountain man with little evident exposure to the outside world (now don’t go getting prejudiced about mountain folk; he and many others are plenty worldly, even if they don’t APPEAR to be so), his tolerance of differences and willingness to break with orthodoxy to make someone feel most welcome. Hollywood has done a bad number on the Southern Man image, and maybe some of that negative stereotype is deserved, but Charlie Haffner was a true Southern gentleman in every way, and I was proud to know him, to be shaped by him.

The other man who has been on my mind is Russell Means, a Pine Ridge Sioux, award-winning actor, and Indian rights activist who caught my attention in the early 1970s, and most especially as a spokesman for tribal members holed up out there after shooting it out with FBI gunslingers.

American Indians always have a respected place in the heart of true Americans, and anyone who grew up playing cowboys and Indians knows that sometimes there were bad cowboys who got their due from some righteous red men. Among little kids fifty years ago, the Indians were always tough, and sometimes they were tougher and better than the white guys. From my generation, a lot of guys carry around a little bit of wahoo Indian inside our hearts; we’d still like to think we are part Indian; it would make us better, more real Americans…

Russell Means was a good looking man, very manly and tough, and he was outspoken about the unfair depredations his people had experienced. While Means was called a radical forty years ago, I think any proud Irishman or Scottish Highlander could easily relate to his complaints, if they or their descendants stop to think about how Britain had (and still does) dispossessed and displaced them.

Russell Means played a key role in an important movie, The Last of the Mohicans. His stoic, rugged demeanor wasn’t faked, and he was so authentic in appearance and action that he easily lent palpable credibility to that artistic portrayal of 1750s frontier America by simply showing up and being there on the set. Means could have easily been the guy on the original buffalo nickel; that is how authentic he was.

Russell Means was representative of an older, better way of life that is disappearing on the Indian reservations, if that makes any sense to those who think of the Indian lifestyle that passed away as involving horses and headdresses. He was truly one of the last of the Mohicans, for all the native tribes. Although I never met you, I still miss you, and your voice, Mr. Means.

[Written 7/23/14]

Charlton Heston – still my president

Watching the Ten Commandments, I’m reminded why Charlton Heston is still my president.

While NRA president, Heston set standards for inspirational leadership. While an actor playing Moses and Ben Hur, he set standards for inspirational acting and portrayal. Heston was a man of faith, inspired by the Master of the Universe, the giver of law and the inspirer of America’s founding fathers.

Because Heston believed in God, he led an exemplary life. He was dedicated to liberty above all else, as he proved by marching with Martin Luther King Jr for black voting rights, and also safeguarding our First Amendment and Second Amendment rights.

Leaders are hard to come by. In this age of empty Obama messianism, people like Heston become reminders of what we should expect, what we deserve.