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500 Days of Summer

500 days of summer

Image credit: 500 Days of Summer, 2009.

I write to you today from the 136th day of summer.  The calendar may say September, the flannel pumpkins may have hit Target shelves, but here in good ole’ Austin we’re still baking in the heat.  You see, summer and I have a bad relationship. Kind of like the bad relationship in this week’s film, 500 Days of Summer (Disc/Download).  Eventually, you just hope someone will put us all out of our misery.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, and Zooey Deschanel as Summer, the movie relies heavily on colorful visuals, choreographed dance numbers, and omniscient narration to tell the story of a couple’s failed relationship.  She says she’s not looking for anything serious, he doesn’t believe her, they date anyway, and he’s shocked when she dumps him.  Then they kinda-sorta flirt again, before she’s suddenly married to another guy.  Truthfully, Summer is…. awful.  The woman likes Ringo Starr, for god’s sake.  And with her high-waisted trousers, a-line dresses, and cute hair bows, her style is annoyingly perfect.  So why do I watch this movie?  A) because it’s an Anthropologie catalog come to life, and B) Tom.  The man wears sweater vests without irony, he can turn an IKEA trip into the cutest date ever, and don’t even get me started on his drunken karaoke skills.  He can do so much better than Summer.

You must understand– this is a very basic girl masquerading as someone unique. I imagine Summer would take a summer cocktail like the Aperol Spritz and make it in a new way, just because she could.  Is it better? No.  But using Campari instead of Aperol would make her seem cool and different.  While watching this bitter take on modern love, I recommend drinking a Campari Spritz.

Campari Spritz

2 oz Campari

3 oz Champagne

Club Soda

Orange Wedge

Fill a glass with ice.  Top with Campari and champagne, then fill glass the rest of the way with club soda.  Stir gently to combine, and garnish with an orange wedge.

campari spritz

I come down hard on Summer (and summer), but it’s only because I don’t like being told how to feel about a character, or a season.  I don’t want to be forced to like a girl just because she’s a snappy dresser, and I don’t want to be forced to like summer just because the rest of the country has a pleasant climate for 4-5 months.  Let me have grey, rainy days, and strong, authentic female characters; summer is meant for someone else.  Cheers!

The Last of Sheila

The Last of Sheila

Image credit: The Last of Sheila, 1973.

This week heralded a lot of firsts for me.  It was the first time I saw James Coburn in drag.  The first time I had impure thoughts about Ian McShane.  And the first time I saw this many pairs of white pants in one movie.  The Last of Sheila (Disc/Download) is a forgotten gem of the 1970s, and as a connoisseur of mid-century weird, I am here for it.

Equal parts Clue and The Cat’s Meow, The Last of Sheila is a Hollywood murder mystery set aboard a yacht in the south of France.  Based on the real-life parlor games staged by the film’s screenwriters Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (yes, THAT Anthony Perkins, and THAT Stephen Sondheim), the plot follows a group of Hollywood players who have all agreed to spend a week on James Coburn’s yacht one year after the mysterious death of his wife Sheila Green.  Once aboard, they’re told they’ll be playing the Sheila Green Gossip Game, competing to discover one another’s secrets.  Alas, the game turns deadly, and it’s a booze-filled struggle to make it out alive.  With a cast that includes Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Raquel Welch, and a sexxxxxy young Ian McShane, this film combines my three main interests in life: big hair, alcohol, and murder.  It’s weird, it’s wild, and it should absolutely be watched with a cocktail.

Leave it to James Mason—this man epitomizes classy drunk.  With the amount of bourbon he throws back, you’d think he’d be dead or passed out halfway through the movie.  But (spoiler) James hangs on till the bitter end, glass in hand, ready to solve this thing once and for all.  Let’s toast James with the boat’s signature alcohol brand in a Jim Beam® Smash.

Jim Beam® Smash

2 oz Jim Beam® Bourbon

2 lemon wedges

1 oz mint simple syrup (or muddled mint and simple syrup)

Club Soda

Fill a glass with ice and lemon wedges.  Pour bourbon and mint simple syrup into a shaker, and gently shake to combine. Pour into prepared glass, and top with club soda.  Stir gently.

Jim Beam Smash

Having fallen in love with Richard Benjamin in Goodbye, Columbus, it’s odd to see him in this creepier role.  His Freddie Mercury-mustache, tight white pants, and turtleneck are…. not a good look.  And don’t even get me started on the puppets.  Luckily there are a lot of other charming, beautiful people to balance out the sinister elements on this boat.  After all, you gotta have friends.  Cheers!

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs

Image credit: Isle of Dogs, 2018.

Sorry cat-lovers, you’re out of luck. Wes Anderson takes a hard line in this week’s film Isle of Dogs (Download), and it’s one I happen to agree with. Cats are evil, and dogs are wonderful human-like creatures full of empathy, intelligence, and courage. For those who disagree, I hear there’s a nonsensical, star-studded musical coming out this Christmas, just for you….

It’s rare to find an animated film that appeals to adults, but this is Wes Anderson we’re talking about. Isle of Dogs isn’t just a stop-motion animation film. It’s a quirky, delightful journey full of humor, pathos, and heart that’ll make you want to snuggle your four-footed friend extra hard. Because nobody wants to see dogs relegated to Trash Island, where they eat bags of garbage and fight each other for rancid fish. We want a world where every dog is entitled to a memory foam bed and endless puppy snaps. And the thing is, every dog should have the good life, because that’s what they give their humans. Comfort in the dark times, laughter during the good, and an ever-present companion for whatever comes your way. This movie about a boy rescuing his dog from Trash Island shows us what animal-lovers have known all along—it’s usually our pets who rescue us right back.

Because this film takes place in the Japanese archipelago, it’s a great excuse for a sake cocktail. This riff on a Greyhound uses the Japanese rice wine in place of vodka, resulting in a tasty variation. While watching Isle of Dogs, I recommend drinking a Megasaki-Sake.

Megasaki-Sake

2 oz Dry Sake

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Ginger simple syrup

2 oz Grapefruit Juice

Lime Twist

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lime twist.

As a pet owner myself, I believe that dogs should ALWAYS be named after food. My girl Peaches is a prime example, but let’s not forget Nutmeg and Peppermint in this film. Sometimes I wonder how Peaches would describe her life if she could talk like these cinema hounds do. Probably brag about all the puppy snaps she gets.  And complain that we don’t throw the tennis ball enough.  Cheers!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Image credit: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958.

This week, I’m all about bourbon.  And honestly, you can’t find a better bourbon movie than Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Disc/Download).  I’m pretty sure Paul Newman had a highball glass glued to his hand throughout the shoot, and lord was there ever a sexier drunk than 1950s-era Newman?  I think not. If you’re sweltering through an endless summer like Brick, better grab the ice bucket and the full bottle—you’ll need them to get through this steamy drama.

Looking at this film purely from an aesthetic point of view, I’m immediately hooked by the gorgeous southern plantation sets, Elizabeth Taylor’s sensual costumes, and the rugged beauty of Paul Newman.  The man looks to be carved from marble, and is of course one hell of an actor.  Then there’s Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie “the cat”, my role model for womanhood.  She’s tough, she’s conniving, and she’s not afraid to tell off bratty children.  Watching her smear ice cream over an annoying little girl’s head is SUCH a satisfying moment for me, and proof she’s the one with real Life in her.  It’s no wonder “Big Daddy” prefers her to his other daughter-in-law—you want the woman who will give you a cashmere robe for your birthday, not another loud-mouthed grandchild.

Although we’re supposed to feel anger or sympathy for Paul Newman’s alcoholic character Brick, I can’t help but be impressed.  This man knows how to hold his liquor!  Whether you’re sweating in a Mississippi plantation or just watching people onscreen do it, a cool drink will get you through the worst days of summer.  While watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I recommend drinking this Mississippi Punch.

Mississippi Punch

2 oz Cognac

1 oz Bourbon

1 oz Jamaican Rum

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz simple syrup

Orange wedge for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with an orange wedge.

Mississippi Punch.jpeg

Just like this cocktail, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is INTENSE.  By the end I’m exhausted from the emotional turmoil of these characters, and I wish someone would put them all out of their misery. But then Brick smirks and tells Maggie to “lock the door,” and I get that warm, satisfied feeling only a classic film and a great line can deliver.  Well… a great line and a lot of bourbon.  Cheers!

Slums of Beverly Hills

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slums of beverly hills

Image credit: Slums of Beverly Hills, 1998.

There’s so much for me to relate to Slums of Beverly Hills (Disc/Download), including (but not limited to): the awkwardness of bra shopping, a childhood of dingbat apartments,; and most of all, a freakish obsession with the book Helter Skelter.  That’s right, I was obsessed with true crime before it was cool.

In today’s world, teenage girls feel free to talk about sex and masturbation and vibrators like it’s nothing.  They don’t wear underwires, and their shorts barely cover their butt cheeks.  Watching Slums of Beverly Hills, it’s very clear that Vivian Abramowitz was born too early. The stuff that was scandalous in 1976 is tame by today’s standards, making this film an interesting time capsule. Even I had to Google a few things, such as—what the heck is a menstrual belt??   But while our societal norms have changed, a few things remain the same. Teenage girls will always feel awkward and out-of-place, they will always be embarrassed by their family, and there will always be people preoccupied with the crimes of the Manson Family (ahem, Quentin Tarantino.  And me).

Viv’s cousin Rita (Marissa Tomei) is the quintessential California chick in the ’70s—beautiful, scattered, and fueled mostly by diuretics and vodka.  This girl needs to get her vitamins where she can.  Let’s celebrate Rita, and the superior fruit crops of California with this Avocado ‘Rita.

Avocado ‘Rita

1/2 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted

1 cup ice

2 oz Reposado tequila

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz Lime Juice

Pinch of salt, plus more for glass.

Rim a glass with salt, and set aside.  Add remaining ingredients to a blender.  Pulse until smooth.  Pour into prepared glass.

Writer/Director Tamara Jenkins has made several films that’ve strongly resonated with me, but none more than this one.  Because to be a teenage girl is to deal with a constant string of dingbats—things that promise the good life but never deliver.  For anyone who’s ever had to accept life and all its disappointments, flaws, etc., this drink’s for you.  Cheers!

Somewhere

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somewhere

Image credit: Somewhere, 2010

Some people despise stories of privileged angst, but me?  I love them.  As Cherry put it in The Outsiders, “Things are rough all over.”  Watching a character like Johnny Marco in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere (Disc/Download) makes me feel just a little bit better about my own world.  Unhappiness is the great equalizer—it doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, famous or invisible.  Personally, I’d rather watch unhappiness take root in a luxury hotel full of swimming pools and celebrities.  To each their own.

This quiet, contemplative film about a movie star reconnecting with his daughter was Coppola’s third feature, and the comparisons to Lost in Translation are inevitable.  Shot on location at The Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, it offers a similar glimpse of celebrity, and the loneliness that often accompanies it.  As Johnny, Stephen Dorff is bored, lost, and drifting.  He rolls through the streets of Hollywood in his Ferrari, searching for anything that will give him a brief moment of pleasure.  But it isn’t until his eleven-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) comes to stay with him that we see glimpses of life behind his dead eyes. He’s trying hard to be the father she deserves, even though deep down he feels like a fraud.  But it’s the trying that tugs at my heartstrings—I want the Johnny who orders every flavor of gelato from room service to be the one who sticks around for her forever.

Speaking of gelato, this movie makes me hungry for it in a big way.  When Johnny and Cleo go to Milan for a film premiere, they’re gifted a lavish hotel suite complete with its own pool.  They order room service late at night, watching Italian-dubbed Friends to cure their jet-lag.  Whether you’re holed up in a Milan suite, lounging poolside at the Chateau Marmont, or just sweating in a hammock in East Austin, this drink will get you through summer. While watching Somewhere, I recommend drinking a Limoncello Float.

Limoncello Float

1 oz Limoncello

1 oz Grand Marnier

Champagne

Limone Gelato

Combine Limoncello and Grand Marnier in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass.  Top with champagne (enough to fill the glass ¾ full), then a scoop of Gelato.

Limoncello Float

Watching this movie, it’s clear that Johnny is drifting.  I don’t even need to see him floating on a pool raft to confirm, though it is a gorgeous shot (hell, every shot of this film is gorgeous).  And the thing is, every one of us has felt stuck at some point, unable to figure out what we want or how to get it, letting ourselves just be carried along until inspiration strikes.  I have not been, nor will I ever be famous, but in this case, I feel like a real Hollywood movie star.  Now fetch me ALL the gelato, please.  Cheers!

Breaking Away

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Breaking Away

Image credit: Breaking Away, 1979.

For anybody who thinks Breaking Away (Disc/Download) is only about cycling, let me enlighten you to the real reason we watch this movie— Dennis. Quaid’s. Abs.  All kidding aside, this is a great flick for when you find yourself in the summer doldrums, waiting for something to change, even when it seems like nothing ever will. It’s a movie about feeling like you’re on the precipice of… something.  You just don’t know what yet.

Starring Beck doppelgänger Dennis Christopher as a teen obsessed with Italian cyclists, Breaking Away follows Dave and his three buddies as they figure out how to go from high school to adulthood.  As “townies” in Bloomington, IN, they’re ridiculed by the university jocks and frat boys, their ambitions reduced to pipe dreams that’ll never come true.  But Dave doesn’t care—he goes after the pretty sorority girl, pretends he’s Italian, and trains obsessively to compete in the local bike race.  His friends think he’s a little nuts, his parents think he’s really nuts, but none of that matters.  He’s got a goal, and nothing’s gonna stop him.

When the Italian racers come to Indiana, they’re sponsored by the Cinzano alcohol brand.  How fortuitous for Cinema Sips!  But the thing is, these Cinzano racers are evil.  Threatened by Dave’s natural talent, they sabotage his bike, leaving him broken and bloody on the side of the road.  So I’m boycotting Cinzano, in favor of my other favorite summertime Italian aperitif Aperol.  While watching Breaking Away, I recommend drinking this Cutter Collins.

Cutter Collins

1 ½ oz Gin

1 ½ oz Aperol

¾ oz Lemon Juice

¼ oz Simple Syrup

4 basil leaves, roughly torn

½ oz Prosecco

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake until well chilled and combined.  Strain into a glass filled with crushed ice, and top with prosecco.  Garnish with a sprig of basil.

Cutter

For anyone who’s ever felt like their dreams are unattainable, this is a good reminder that hard work and dedication can go a long way.  Also, it’s okay to ask for a little help from your friends. Especially if that friend is a glistening, shirtless Dennis Quaid. Cheers!