Jun 21, 2006

Wish You Were Here

By B.E. Earl

06/21/2006 10:30 PM EST

Hey kiddies! Earl again with some mindless musings, musical mayhem, misty memories and magical mushrooms. Ok, no mind-altering substances here, but I was on an alliteration roll. Thought I’d contribute a little some-some for my buddy’s blog here on the first day of summer (OK…it’s the first day of summer as I am typing. Let’s see when Slyde gets around to posting it).

(Editor's Note: Bite Me, Earl. I got it posted same day! So There! - Slyde)

It couldn’t be a more glorious day here on Long Island. I finished up some work around 3ish in the afternoon and took a walk down to the beach where my sister had taken my nephew, Cavan. Not the most normal of names, huh? But it’s actually the county in Ireland where my mother’s side of the family came from, and my sister was kinda sold on it. My father’s side of the family came from County Cork, and I’m glad she didn’t go for that. Corky would almost be too much for me to bear as an uncle. I mean I’m rapidly approaching 40, but that doesn’t mean that I’m too old to laugh at a kid named Corky. Funny is funny.

Back to the beach in our story. Our local beach is right down the block from my mother’s house in Blue Point, NY. It’s affectionately known as Mommy Beach by the locals because of the preponderance of moms and their kids. There must have been a sign posted today, however, because Mommy Beach turned into Hot Mommy Beach! When I was growing up, I can’t recall actually thinking that any of my friend’s moms were attractive at all. These women today…whoa! Way to go, ladies!

I mentioned that my mother lives in Blue Point. This is also where I grew up, although I’ve been on the north shore of Long Island for about 8 years now. For those wondering why the name sounds familiar, it may be because of its’ relation to Blue Point Oysters. Back in the early part of the previous century, Blue Point Oysters were the best oysters in the world and they were harvested from the waters surrounding our little town on the bay. Sometime in the 1920’s or 30’s, however, salinity levels in the Great South Bay rose to a level that became toxic to our poor oyster population. Some say that this was caused by a hurricane that swept over our barrier beach (Fire Island), flooding the bay and neighboring beaches. Any time you see Blue Point Oysters on a menu today they are most likely from the north shore out of the Long Island Sound.

Now all that lives in our bay are clams, and the harvesting of those are strictly regulated due to over-harvesting and pollution. When I was growing up, it seemed like everyone had a relative who was a clammer. My brother and my brother-in-law each made some money by clamming. I heard that last year only five or six clamming licenses were even applied for on the Great South Bay. Its amazing how quickly man’s influences on our surroundings can get out of hand. It’s too late for our oyster population, but maybe one day we can see a resurgence of the clam population in the Bay.

As for the musical mayhem portion of our program, I heard a couple of songs on the radio today that I hadn’t heard in a million years. OK…at least since I was in college. "Echo Beach" by Martha and the Muffins, and "Summer’s Cauldron" by XTC. It’s absolutely amazing to me that good, rare music like this is still played on the radio someplace. The station that was playing them was WFUV 90.7 here in New York which is a member-supported public radio station, of course. I guess that non-commercial radio is the only way we are going to hear these gems outside of our iPods.

Finally, this past weekend was Father’s Day here in the US. I qualified that because I’m not sure if it is on the same date in other countries. I know from a friend of mine that Mother’s Day is located elsewhere on the calendar in the UK, so maybe it’s the same with Dad’s Day.

It was a bit of a somber day for me as in two weeks it will be three years since my father passed away from a long battle with heart disease. The last time that I saw him before his final heart attack (and subsequent hospital stay) was when I took him out for dinner the Wednesday after Father’s Day three years ago. He was watching what he ate because of his condition, but boy did he enjoy himself. He always said that his favorite times in his life were having a meal with his family. He always began each meal with smile and a soft-spoken “good to be together” when his children were around. We still do that on the occasions that the whole family gets together for a nice meal like we do on Thanksgiving Day or other holidays.

Three days later I got a call at home from my sister telling me that Dad was in the hospital again, and it really didn’t look good this time. He hung on for a few weeks, but it was still a shock when he passed. It’s still hard for me to believe that it has been three years.

At his gravesite on Sunday, I found myself wishing that our first 26 years together were a lot more like our last 10. We were always close, but we really became friends in that last decade, and I find myself missing my friend more and more as the years pass on. I think about the trip I took him on down to the Florida Keys and I wish that we had done that more often. He said it was the best vacation he ever had been on. To quote Morgan Freeman from The Shawshank Redemption “I guess, I just miss my friend.”

With that in mind, I would like to wish a belated Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads and Grandpas out there, as well as to everyone else who has or had a father who was an important part of their lives like my father was. Cheers!

Jun 12, 2006

"I'll see you in Hell, Will Munny!"

By B.E. Earl

06/12/2006 4:16 PM EST

Hey cowboys and cowgirls! It’s yer old friend Earl here again with a little something for your perusal. I guess it has been a little while, and Slyde’s been bugging me to chip in. I had a few current thoughts on my mind that I was gonna write about, but that all changed due to the rainout of the Yankee/Red Sox game tonight. It’s been raining all day here on Long Island (and in much of the Northeast), and I was in the mood to just hang at home and watch a good movie in my pajamas. The rainout gave me an opportunity for just that.

I had one of five movies in mind for this cold and dreary evening. Five films that I had recently thought about and happened to have on DVD, so I wouldn’t have to bother with a trip to the video store. Snatch was on my list, I guess because of all the recent media surrounding the birth of Brangelina’s baby. Road to Perdition was number two, for really no reason at all other than that I haven’t seen it since first purchasing it on DVD. High Fidelity was also there because I have this odd fascination with all of John Cusack’s films, but I hold this one in a special place of honor. Bull Durham was right in there because, well, I WAS going to spend the evening watching baseball anyway and this is just about my favorite baseball film.

But no, I decided upon my umpteenth viewing of Unforgiven, the last greatest Western ever made. That last part was my own humble opinion, of course. I’ve been a fan of Westerns for a long time and if you had told me back in college that I would someday see a better Western than The Searchers or My Darling Clementine or The Wild Bunch, well I guess I would have told you that you were just plum nuts. But in 1992, Clint Eastwood did what I thought was impossible. Not only did he make a Western as good as those classics, but (once again, IMHO) he surpassed them. Just check out the simple and elegant title card that we viewers were greeted with that set the stage for what was to unfold:

She Was a comely young woman
and not without prospects.
Therefore it was heartbreaking
to her mother that she would
enter into marriage with
William Munny, a known thief
and murderer. A man of
notoriously vicious and
imtemperate disposition.

When she died, it was not at
his hands as her mother might
have expected, but of smallpox.

That was 1878.

What a fantastic way to start a film. “That was 1878.” With that one sentence we are given so much. No long backstory or exposition, just a simple peek into the world that we were just about to immerse ourselves into. From there the story unfolds. Will Munny (Eastwood) has become a pig farmer with two children from his marriage to Claudia. Times are hard, but he works hard at remaining a good man to his family in honor of his dearly departed wife. He has given up drinking, swearing, violence towards animals and killing. His wife had saved him from that life. As we are told time and time again in the next hour or so, “he ain’t like that no more”.

Over in Big Whiskey, Wyoming (what a great name) two cowboys were having some fun with the local whores when one of the young ladies giggles at the size of the teeny gun one of the fellas is packing. He proceeds to cut up her face in a fit of furious rage, and we now have the fuel that drives the rest of the film. Strawberry Alice (a ferocious Frances Fisher) convinces the rest of the whores to combine their savings to hire assassins to kill the two men who cut up poor Deliliah (a thoroughly underrated Anna Levine. I can watch The Crow just for her scenes especially when the Crow tells her that “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children”. Her reactions were fantastic. Plus she has big cans).

Soon, The Schofield Kid (James Woolvett) comes looking for Will to help him out with the dastardly deed. His uncle had told him stories of Will’s past deeds and told him that he was the meanest son of a bitch he had ever met. Will joins up with the Kid, after convincing Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), one of his former partners in crime, to accompany them. The town’s Sheriff is Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a former gunfighter himself who keeps the peace at any cost. The interplay between Bill and those entering his town to break the law drives much of the action for the rest of the film.

But action isn’t really what Unforgiven is all about. It’s about deconstructing some of the myths of the Old West that had previously been portrayed on the silver screen. In some cases by Eastwood himself. The Kid turns out to be a naïve young man who is star-struck at the thought of becoming one of the famous gunfighters that his uncle had told him tales about. When he finally sees how low and dirty the job of killing a man actually is (wonderfully represented by a killing in an outhouse), he finds he doesn’t have the stomach for it.

My favorite character in the film is W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek), a writer and chronicler of the Old West who has come to town with English Bob (Richard Harris). Bob has heard the tale of the whore’s gold and he has come to town to collect. Before he has a chance at contacting Alice, he is confronted by Bill who, in turn, proceeds to kick the living crap out of him. Beauchamp learns from Bill that English Bob is not the legendary gunslinger of yore, but a drunken coward who is lucky to still be alive.

Two tales are examined here. The Kid wants to know about something his uncle had told him about an incident in Lexington County where Will had killed two deputies who had come to arrest him with guns drawn. Beauchamp wants to know the real story behind the killing of a man named Corcoran by English Bob at the Blue Bottle Saloon. Will won’t or can’t comment on it as he insists he doesn’t remember what happened, although we find out from Ned that there most likely were more deputies than just two. Little Bill is only too happy to let Beauchamp know that Corcoran had done little to deserve being shot by English Bob, and in fact was unarmed at the time of his death because his weapon had backfired.

What is truth? What is myth? These are the answers Eastwood is searching for. Through the outsider’s eyes of Beauchamp, the moviegoer sees the transition from the deception of English Bob to the brutality of Little Bill and finally to the resignation and determination of Will Munny. Where is the honor in any of it? Was there any honor at all? Will Munny was a man just like any other man, he feels. His demons overcame his better angels in his younger days before his wife saved him. It’s only after the vicious and unreasonable killing of his best friend that we see those demons again. But it isn’t legendary skills with guns that lead to his success. It’s determination and luck. Will tells Beauchamp at the end of the film that he’s “always been lucky when it comes to killing folks.”

Will has no hope for redemption. He knows that he can never be forgiven for the things he has done even though he has done the best he could do to change the kind of man he is. When Little Bill utters his last words and tells Will that he will see him in Hell, all Will can do is accept it and respond with a soft-spoken “Yeah” before ending Bill’s life.

Friends often ask me what my favorite movie is. I usually respond that I love so many movies that it would be impossible for me to settle on just one. Every time I see Unforgiven, it becomes easier and easier for me to finally and truthfully answer.

“I guess they had it coming.” – Schofield Kid

“We all have it coming, kid.” – Will Munny

Jun 10, 2006

A Little T & A

By B.E. Earl

06/10/2006 8:11 AM EST

Hey kids! Sorry to disappoint, but the titular (hehe) T & A don't stand for what you were all hoping for. Nope, here to talk a little more about "T"equila and "A"ction movies.

First off, apologies to Elizabeth. I felt the need to correct her mis-spelling (did I just mis-spell that?) of mezcal on the feedback section of her site. I've explained that correcting folks is really the only chink in an otherwise glorious armor for me. It's a bad habit and I've got to work on it. To make things worse, it turns out that I was wrong to correct her! It can be spelled either way. Mescal or Mezcal. Unlike Liza, because it's Liza with a "z", not Lisa with an "s", because Lisa with an "s" goes "sss", not "zzz".

That being said, I was just going to share with you a little bit about the differences between tequila and mezcal. Because I'm an ass that way.

Tequila, while technically a type of mezcal, is only made from one varietal of agave. The agave tequilana Weber, blue variety or just what we gringos call the blue agave.

Mezcal can be made from any of five varietals of agave, with the most common one being espadin.

They are also distilled differently. Tequila is distilled at least twice while mezcal is distilled only once...giving it a harsher flavor. The agave hearts for tequila are either baked or steamed in above-ground ovens, while they are baked underground over charcoal and covered with palm leaves for mezcal. That's why you may taste a smoky flavor when you are enjoying your mezcal.

If you have never seen what an agave plant looks like, they are similar in appearance to cacti, but they are actually a succulent...like aloe. And they are HUGE! For some reason, I had always assumed they were about the size of a volleyball, but they are bigger than bean bag chairs. Really, really big bean bag chairs.

As for the action movie portion of our program, I was watching The Last Boy Scout the other day when I realized that this is where the evil started for Bruce Willis. Lemme 'splain. I love his films. I especially love when he steps out of character as he did in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Great stuff.

What is that character that he gets to step out of occassionally? Why it's the character he first played in The Last Boy Scout. The former law enforcement type with the heart of gold who has witnessed or experienced some tragedy that has changed him into a world-weary, alcoholic private detective type. You know, the character that he played in Striking Distance or Die Hard: With a Vengeance or Mercury Rising or The Fifth Element or even Hostage and Sin City, to certain degrees.

Al of these films are a bit different, but the Willis character is pretty much the same. I guess John Wayne made a pretty fine living by just playing the Duke during his film career, but I never realized how often Willis has played this guy. The exact details are never the same, but you get the picture.

I wonder if there is a team of monkeys some place in Hollywood behind a door marked "Bruce Willis scripts" just banging away on keyboards. Does Willis even read these scripts or does his agent just sign him up and tell him that he's "you know, playing that guy again?"

That being said, I'm glad to see that John McClane will be back for one more outing as Die Hard 4 is currently in pre-production. Hopefully we will find out that he has gotten back together with his wife or that he has moved on since the last film. We need a little more of the wise-cracking hero we saw in the first two films and a little less of the world-weary alcoholic we saw in the third (and sooo many others!).