It’s Got to be the Goin’: The Journey of (Self) Annihilation

By Michael W. Harris

N.B. – This is part three of a series on Alex Garland’s films, if you have not already, you should probably read Part I on Sunshine and Part II on Ex Machina before diving in.

Almost any film (or narrative story) is about “the journey.” It is what gives a character their arc and shows their growth. Sometimes there is a very literal metaphor of this arc with a character climbing a mountain or driving across the country with a friend or their father’s ashes…or Einstein’s brain. Regardless, something they all have in common, though, is that the journey is the means by which the character grows. This is the essence of “The Hero’s Journey” and the well-trodden Joseph Campbell Hero With a Thousand Faces and what not.

But what about a film that is not about the hero’s journey and how it changes them? What about a film in which the journey itself is the point? A journey that, while somehow revelatory of the character and either their motivations for the journey or society as a whole, rather than changing them or causing them to grow as a person, instead ends up either not affecting them or, if anything, leaving them worse off for making the trip.

These kinds of films are about how what is being journeyed through reflects or, in the case of Annihilation, refracts back on the person or society. Continue reading “It’s Got to be the Goin’: The Journey of (Self) Annihilation”

Ginology 11: Beefeater 24

By Michael W. Harris

 Basic Info
Type: London Dry
ABV: 45%
Botanicals: 12 botanicals, including grapefruit peel and Japanese and Chinese teas
Base: Grant Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: Botanicals infused for twenty-four hours, head distiller than selects their “perfect cut” of the result.

Beefeater 24 is, in many ways (though not in taste), similar to Tanqueray 10 or Bombay Sapphire. It is the more “upscale” version of their basic gin; the original with a twist. In this case, the twist is the mixture of botanicals, including some Japanese and Chinese teas, which are then infused for twenty-four hours, the result of which the master distiller than selects what they believe is the best “cut.”

It is an interesting gin, to say the least, but is it worth the price premium? That is the real question. The original Beefeater is such a stellar mid-range gin it begs the question of if it is worth paying almost double for Beefeater 24. I hope to give you some guidance on that by the end of this review.

Straight

This bottle is amazing.

As part of my research for the upcoming Annihilation review, I watched Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (10/27)—the reasons for this will become clear when you read my review. It was during the USO show scene with the Playboy Bunnies that I poured myself a measure of straight Beefeater 24 and was intrigued. It was different. Not too boozy, not too fruity or earthy. The tea flavors are definitely present, but not overwhelming. Rounded would be a good word to describe the gin.

On the palate it has a bit more bite, but the rounded flavor profile remains. The citrus and teas are in balance and nothing really leaps out as being dominant. However, on the finish is where the alcohol can jump up and kick you, especially if you take a bigger sip. But to a more measured drinker, it is quite pleasant and a worthy update to a classic gin.

Unfortunately, things to do stay that way.

Gin and Tonic

[No comment]
As I continue to watch Robotech (10/29), I find myself getting more invested in the story. It is strange that what I went into believing was a simple children’s cartoon has turned into a serious, though still quite campy at times, show that I am finding myself actually invested in! As for the Beefeater 24, that rounded and balanced flavor profile seems to have a detrimental effect on it as a cocktail mixer. At first, I thought that the lack of any real punch in my gin and tonic was because the tonic bottle I had was almost empty or that the limes were getting a bit dry in the fridge.

However, I repeated in the gin and tonic tasting twice more, controlling for those two variables and had the same experience. The Beefeater 24 and tonic just tastes flat. It has almost no bite or real taste to it. It is uninteresting, bland. Lacking in character.

Truly, everything that makes drinking the gin straight such a pleasant experience works against it when mixed with tonic. Given that, I had no idea what to expect from the pink gin.

Pink Gin

Always trying to find new places for my drinks to pose.

A while back I picked up Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love during a Criterion sale and I finally decided to cue it up as I tried out the Beefeater 24 pink (11/1). My first note is, “Woah, this is not too bad.” The taste has vague hints of something medicinal (in a good way, like cough syrup) and the smell is akin to candy or licorice.

The finish has burn to spare, the bitters amping up the taste as is usual, but it is still not too bad to sip in measured quantities. Yet, as nice as it is, it is still does not make me love the pink gin any more than my already lukewarm opinion.

Bottom Line
I went into Beefeater 24 with high hopes, and both the straight and pink gin were pretty good. However, at the end of the day, for me a gin is lives or dies by how it performs in a gin and tonic. By this measure Beefeater 24 falls down. Flat.

Which is basically my answer to if it is worth the price premium. While not terribly expensive when compared to some gins, its price still puts it on par with Tanqueray 10 or Bombay Sapphire, or even Hendrick’s (depending on where you live/shop), and against that competition it does not warrant the purchase. It is solidly Middle Shelf in my opinion, and if you want Beefeater, then save the money and go with the classic.

Visions of the Things to Be: Reflections on M*A*S*H

 

By Michael W. Harris

The gang’s all here

I try not to identify a lot with fictional characters—the Fantastic Four aside. It is hard, though. Fiction is designed to engage us on an emotional level, draw us in and create moments of reflection within us. Growing up, as strange as it may sound, one of the characters I identified with most was Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit. Continue reading “Visions of the Things to Be: Reflections on M*A*S*H”

The Real Test: Humanity and [Artificial] Intelligence in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina

By Michael W. Harris

Yes, what will happen?

If there is one question left in my brain at the end of Ex Machina, it is “who was the true villain of the film?” For so much of its runtime we are left in a state of unease at the actions and personality of its erstwhile genius creator Nathan (Oscar Issac)—some sort Steve Jobs crossed with Mark Zuckerberg crossed with Dr. Frankenstein mad scientist—and we wonder when the other shoe will drop. Nathan is erratic, quick to anger and just as quick to soften; unpredictable, clearly an alcoholic, and also paranoid. His security measures prove to be his very undoing, and also cause the death of his unwitting test subject/examiner, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), one of Nathan’s employees who is there to perform a Turing Test on Ava (Alicia Vikander), Nathan’s android creation.

There is not a lot of set-up to the film—we are quickly dumped into the beginnings of the story which is slowly unwound for us via dialogue—which works because Caleb is just as clueless as the audience. Nathan, on the outside, would seem to be the picture of the cool, laid back, Silicon Valley billionaire. A brilliant, youthful genius whose ambition is outpaced only by his reckless and odd behavior. Continue reading “The Real Test: Humanity and [Artificial] Intelligence in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina”

Ginology 10: Tom’s Town McElroy’s Corruption Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: “New Western” Style
ABV: 45%
Botanicals: “uncommon bltanicals”
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: None

During my Christmas 2017 travels, I picked up three bottles of gin: Starlight 1794 by Huber’s in Indiana, North Shore No. 11 from Chicago, and the Tom’s Town under consideration today. Unfortunately, I’ve already finished the other two bottles, but as it turns out I saved the best for last. Tom’s Town is a Kansas City distillery (hometown represent!), whose spirits are inspired by the figures of the old Pendergast political machine. The same Tom Pendergast who, during Prohibition essentially said, “yeah…no. We’re not going to do that,” helping to fuel the KC jaz night life. The same Tom Pendergast who propelled the career of a young businessman and law school dropout that would eventually led him to being called President Harry S. Truman.

The namesake McElroy was a city manager who did not enforce Prohibition, making Kansas City an “open city” during the era. It was an interesting time in KC history, one that is intricately wrapped up in the city’s legacy of jazz, Negro Leagues baseball, BBQ, and so much more. And the bottle’s Art Deco inspired labels reflect the era’s aesthetic.

N.B.: In between starting this review and posting it, it appears that Tom’s Town has revamped their line and Corruption is no longer available. I’m guessing, however, that the “Botanical Gin” listed is similar, if not the same, as the Corruption Gin.

So, enough with the history lesson. How does it taste? Very good, indeed. Continue reading “Ginology 10: Tom’s Town McElroy’s Corruption Gin”

Stardust to Stardust: An Adagio to Life and Death (Alex Garland’s Sunshine)

By Michael W. Harris

Our world is dying…

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007), written by the future Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) writer/director Alex Garland, was, for me, the film from which I learned the phrase “third act problems.” In this way, it was a seminal film in my development as a critical viewer and analyzer of the cinematic arts. And yet, despite these problems, it remains, in my regard, an outstanding example of the science fiction genre and a film that I whole heartedly recommend.

The following essay had its start in my long delayed hauntology project (I promise that will begin posting soon), but in the process of streamlining that series and removing a number of films because the essays I was writing kept getting longer, I decided that both Sunshine and Ex Machina did not really fit with the themes I was developing…though Sunshine was heartbreaking to remove because I do want more people to watch it, flaws and all. Continue reading “Stardust to Stardust: An Adagio to Life and Death (Alex Garland’s Sunshine)”

Ginology 9: Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 43%
Botanicals: Oriental botanicals and gunpowder tea are listed on bottle. Website lists: meadowsweet, cardamom, juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, caraway seed, star anise, gunpowder tea, Chinese lemon, oriental grapefruit, kaffir lime
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: The tea, lemon, grapefruit, and lime are all vapor infused into the gin, while the others are “slow distilled by hand in medieval copper pot stills.”

I had never had Gunpowder Gin before moving to Virginia last year, but it was one of the first new spirits that I spied when I made my inaugural trip to the local ABC store after moving to Williamsburg a year ago in October 2017. From what I could tell, it was a relatively new addition to the state approved line-up of spirits, and I was a little worried that I might not be able to get a hold of it once I moved to Tennessee because, spoilers, I love this gin. Indeed, the (beautiful) bottle I am reviewing was purchased back in Virginia just in case I would not be able to acquire it locally. Luckily I can source it in Memphis and I can foresee another bottle in my future once this one is empty.

What I am saying is that I really like this gin. The interesting mixture of traditional botanicals and the vapor infused “Oriental” ones (god that word is cringe-worthy and taints the gin just a tad in my book, though not enough to keep me from buying it) and gunpowder tea make for a tasty experience that changes remarkably depending on how you decide to consume this gin.

Let’s go to the tape. Continue reading “Ginology 9: Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin”

Artificial Reports of the Worlds: Steven Spielberg’s Early 2000s Sci-Fi Trilogy

By Michael W. Harris

Steven Spielberg is an interesting director. Often derided by “refined” cinephiles as too commercial and mainstream, not to mention his part in the creation of the modern blockbuster with Jaws (1975), Spielberg is, in reality, a very astute and sophisticated director whose films have surprising depth when you peel back the surface layer. His works have undergone a bit of critical reappraisal thanks to many YouTube essayists and such opinions are beginning to filter into the mainstream. And with this new criticism has come some re-evaluation of films that, upon first release, suffered from disappointment critically or financially (at least in the public perception).

In my memory (which could be flawed or skewed in this respect), early 2000s Spielberg is and was undervalued by the public, that some thought he had somehow lost a step. Coming off the successes of Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Amistad (1997), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), he followed those up with the three films under discussion here: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), Minority Report (2002), and War of the Worlds (2005)—with Catch Me If You Can (2002) and The Terminal (2004) sandwiched in between the latter two for good measure. These are not objectively bad films, they demonstrate a master in full command of his craft. Yet, I never saw any of these three films in theatres, catching them only after the fact on DVD. In my memory, I also do not remember overwhelming praise nor box office (though the internet tells me otherwise). However, they have remained in the back of my head as films that I would like to revisit, especially when taken as an interesting grouping in Spielberg’s career. Three sci-fi films coming in relative proximity, and all adaptations at that. Continue reading “Artificial Reports of the Worlds: Steven Spielberg’s Early 2000s Sci-Fi Trilogy”

Ginology 8: Ventura Spirits Wilder Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Note: This post has been edited to reflect feedback from Ventura Spirits as to the botanicals mixture.

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 43%
Botanicals: “local harvested” sagebrush, purple sage, bay yerba santa, pixie mandarin peel, chuchupate
Base: Organic Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: Botanicals are harvested from the wild California native plants.

Ventura Spirits Wilder Gin is an…interesting…spirit. If you look at the list of botanicals above, which is copied directly from the bottle and website, you will notice something missing: juniper. While I find this decision to exclude the key botanical for the list as interesting, I have been assured by Ventura via comment (see below) that the gin does include juniper berries. However, I will say that upon trying the gin, I did not really taste it. I cannot pinpoint what is the dominant flavor of Wilder, but it does not strike me very juniper forward.

My bottle of Wilder was sent to me by an old friend from Missouri who now lives in the Bay Area, where Ventura Spirits is based (thank you!!). However, it was partially sent to me because she and her partner tried it and didn’t care much for it and were curious to get my take. And, after spending a week with the gin, I have to say…I kind of agree. While it is not the worst gin I have ever had, it is not something I’d go out of my way to get again. And seeing how they do not distribute outside of California except for some on-line retailers, there seems to be little chance for getting it unless you are in the state.

So, what did I like and dislike about the gin? Let’s get down to brass tacks. Continue reading “Ginology 8: Ventura Spirits Wilder Gin”

The Pelikan M491: A Pen History

By Michael W. Harris

My fountain pen history began in May 2013 with the gift of a Pelikan M200 in marbled green. While it took another five years for that gift to flower into a full-blown hobby, because of my first fountain pen being a Pelikan, the brand has retained a special place in my heart and mind. So much so that I hope to acquire a number of Pelikans to compliment that first M200. Call it a “flock” of Pelikans, if you will.

A Flight of Pelikans

To date, I have picked up three additional pens from the brand: a Special Edition M120 in Iconic Blue, a M200 in blue marble (a pre-1997 model at that with slightly different features), and the subject of today’s post: the M491 from the 1960s. This last pen is all sorts of weird: from its left oblique nib to its model number, the M491 is just an oddpen from the usually rather sedate and venerable German Brand.

Word of caution: this is not going to be a typical pen review. Rather, this is going to be more a history of this writing instrument, how it came about, what makes it so odd, how it came to be in my collection, and why I love it…quirks and all. Continue reading “The Pelikan M491: A Pen History”