Son of a Gun – Amateur Effort Sours an Otherwise Promising Film

This indie film based on a Civil War legend had potential but ultimately fell below the standards of a made-for-TV movie.

A Confederate surgeon invents a battlefield legend to protect a young woman from an intolerant society in Son of a Gun (2019), written and directed by Travis Mills. This indie production reels in its audience with an interesting premise but from the first scene to the last, falls short in nearly every category of filmmaking.

The year is 1863. Union and Confederate armies are locked in deadly combat near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Battlefield surgeon Legrand Capers (Miles Doleac) is pulled away from a wounded soldier to tend to a young woman (Jessica Harthcock) at a nearby farmhouse who was shot in the abdomen by a stray bullet. Months later, he returns to learn the woman is pregnant, yet she insists she’s a virgin. The stray bullet, passing through the soldier’s scrotum, must have somehow impregnated the woman! At least, that’s what an elderly Legrand Capers (Cotton Yancey) tells a group of old-timers at a tavern.

Things get complicated when the film unravels three separate versions of events, with different actors and actresses playing the various roles. Each version leads the audience further away from fantasy and toward the scandalous truth. Finally, as Capers is dying of tuberculosis many years after the war, he is confronted by the family’s former slave, Mamie (Nancy Lindsey), who knows what really happened.

Son of a Gun’s use of multiple perspectives and multiple casts to tell the story was unique and not as confusing as it sounds. The actor who played middle-aged Capers, William Shannon Williams, was subtly charming and fit the role well, as did actress Nancy Lindsey. For the most part, the performances were fine. It was the amateurish sound and editing that cheapened every scene.

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EIU Memories: Antiwar Protests

Click ‘play’ to hear me read this article with actual audio from the 2002 protest!

As 2002 came to a close, I was getting ready to go on Christmas break and start a new year at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. The hot issue of the day was the impending war with Iraq. Everyone knew it was coming, but no one knew when. UN weapons inspectors had been combing Iraq for several weeks, with no results. That December, a group of protestors would meet at Old Main on Lincoln Avenue to lend their voices to peace.

Having followed events in Iraq for quite some time, I was skeptical of the threat it posed or the utility of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Despite Bush Administration horror stories about weapons of mass destruction, I always suspected something worse might replace Saddam, and that starting another war in the Middle East wouldn’t help stamp out Islamic extremism. In 2002, however, the antiwar crowd seemed to be in the minority. A January 2003 CBS poll found 64% of Americans approved of military action against Iraq after all diplomatic options had been exhausted.

Screen still from my antiwar protest video, shot outside Old Main on Lincoln Ave in Charleston, IL.

On the sixty-first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 2002, a number of small campus groups, including the Green Party, junior art major Ryan McClure, and Newman Center director Roy Lanham, organized an antiwar protest to coincide with similar marches around the country. I showed up with my video camera to document the event and interview the participants.

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Battlefield Tourism in Decline

At a time when American history is being fought over in the social and political arena, a sharp decline in visits to our national battlefields reveals a sad lack of public appreciation for our nation’s history.

To me, there’s something deeply important about visiting museums, forts, and battlefields, which is why I write weekly articles about historic sites and events. It’s one thing to read about a battle in a book. I’ve read dozens of books on the American Civil War, at least ten on the Battle of Gettysburg alone. But until you stand on the actual ground where those armies fought, you’ll never have a complete sense of what happened there.

Battlefields are more than just lifeless monuments and interpretive signs that tell a story. You are standing on the same dirt those armies trampled 150 years ago, that same soil over which men fought and died, whose wounds bled into that very ground. Standing on Little Round Top at Gettysburg National Military Park, you can imagine the gray columns advancing through the smoke from the perspective of a Union soldier.

That’s not something you’ll ever experience in a classroom.

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EIU Memories: Carl Estabrook’s Congressional Campaign

When I returned to Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois for the fall 2002 semester, the potential invasion of Iraq was heating up. The looming war dominated news coverage, and we all believed this could be our generation’s Vietnam. Protests were held across the country, as well as on the campus of our small Midwestern university.

The 2002 midterm elections presented me with my first real opportunity to participate in politics. I was 20 years old and had never voted before. As a member of the campus Green Party, I had a front row seat for Carl Estabrook’s campaign for 15th Congressional District. I’d always considered myself more libertarian, but I was young and eager to get involved, and most of my close friends were on the left.

It was an uphill battle. Illinois’ 15th Congressional District consisted of east central Illinois, including Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Mattoon, and Charleston, and a narrow strip running south along the border with Indiana (the 15th has since been redistricted). Aside from the liberal outpost of Champaign-Urbana (home to the University of Illinois), this was deeply Republican territory. The incumbent, Timothy V. Johnson, won in 2000 with 53.2% of the vote (he would be re-elected five times).

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the Importance of Getting Details Right in Film

Nitpicking over historical or scientific details helps keep filmmakers honest and makes films more authentic.

In Joe Rogan’s Aug 22, 2018 interview with scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Tyson told an interesting story about how he contributed to the 2012 comedy Ted. It stemmed from his criticism of the night sky as depicted in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). Titanic, of course, was based on the true story of the 1912 RMS Titanic disaster.

Since we know exactly where and at what time the Titanic sank, astronomers can use computer modeling to re-create precisely what the night sky looked like from the perspective of the passengers and crew. Of course, this was a detail James Cameron overlooked and one that Neil DeGrasse Tyson noticed immediately.

When Tyson later brought it up to Cameron, the director was initially dismissive but then later corrected the mistake in a director’s cut of the film. Years later, filmmaker and comedian Seth MacFarlane called Neil DeGrasse Tyson to make sure he had the correct sky at a specific time at a specific place, in a comedy film about a Teddy Bear that comes to life.

Now that’s attention to detail!

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Does President Trump Want to Build Steam-Powered Aircraft Carriers?

Business Insider publishes wildly biased and misleading news story about Trump’s recent visit to Japan.

An unusual-sounding headline popped up in my news feed today. “Trump tells troops that future US supercarriers are ‘going to use steam’ in a weird rant about an obsession he can’t seem to shake.” Written by Ryan Pickrell for Business Insider, this alleged news story and its misleading headline is rife with opinionated and obviously biased descriptors and characterizations.

When I read this headline, it conjured an image of President Trump advocating a return to late 19th Century steam-powered ships. After all, that would be a “weird rant” about future US supercarriers using steam. You have to read past the headline to find out what actually happened.

In an address to sailors and Marines on the USS Wasp in Japan earlier today, President Trump mentioned he might issue an order for the Navy’s new Ford-class supercarriers to use steam-powered launchers to catapult aircraft off the flight deck, rather than the planned Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. “The US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers have used steam launchers for decades,” the article explains.

Trump is concerned the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System is much more expensive without any added benefit. It also appears the majority of Naval personnel support continued use of the simpler steam launchers. So Trump is bringing up an issue to win favor with the troops, hardly something “weird” or controversial.

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EIU Memories: Campus Greens

During the 2000 presidential election, student groups around the country cropped up to support Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, a consumer and environmental activist. Nader ended up receiving 2.88 million votes, or just 2.74 percent of the popular vote. Never-the-less, many Democrats considered Nader a spoiler who cost Democratic candidate Al Gore the election. In retrospect, his impact on that race was probably overstated.

When I entered Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois in the fall of 2000, the Bush vs. Gore campaign was in full swing. I was idealistic, ready for change, and thought I knew everything. In other words, a typical college freshman. In late October, a friend convinced me to attend a meeting of the campus Green Party. Though I was more libertarian-leaning, curiosity and a desire to “get involved” led me to the former English lounge on the second floor of Coleman Hall (meetings were later moved to the Student Union).

Joining the Green Party at EIU turned out to be a fruitful decision, as I made several lasting friends and gained valuable experience. My first post-election political act was to write a five-page letter detailing what I believed to be the problems facing the country to newly elected President George W. Bush. I received a generic letter and a photo of him and Laura in reply.

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