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Dinner at Eight

Image credit: Dinner at Eight, 1933

Last year around this time, I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because I thought it was a movie about people eating. Too late, I realized my mistake (I was already three drinks in before anyone even mentioned the dining room). This year, Dinner at Eight (Disc/Download) has fooled me anew, offering all the promise of a five-course meal with none of the calories. Really, after a year of pandemic weight gain, maybe that’s a good thing. I’m not sure who in Hollywood started the trend of “movies with dinner in the title that have nothing to do with dinner,” but let me just say, I am here for it every Thanksgiving. After a big meal, the last thing I want to see is more food.

There are a lot of familiar faces in this flick (Barrymores! Glenda the Good Witch!), but the true standout is Miss Jean Harlow. As soon as she appears onscreen, lounging in a silk bed eating bon-bons in the middle of the day, I am putty in her manicured hands. She takes a character that could have been a silly throwaway and turns it into the one thing that saves this movie from being too full of itself. Harlow is radiant in her satin negligees, platinum blonde hair, and hilarious facial expressions, and I find myself waiting for other actors’ scenes to end just so she’ll come back. Dinner at Eight is built around the premise of a group of upper-crust New Yorkers gathering for a dinner party, all of them hiding their own personal secrets, but the thing that sets Jean apart is she lets it all hang out. She doesn’t have time for bras, or politeness- in other words, the ideal dinner companion.

As these neurotic people navigate bankruptcy, career suicide, alcoholism, and afternoon trysts, I can’t help but think that Millicent Jordan’s bar cart better be stocked- they’ll all need a strong drink by the time a meal is actually served! Let’s toast them with this autumnal variation on a Manhattan, the Big Apple Martini.

Big Apple Martini

2 oz Applejack Brandy

½ oz Sweet Vermouth

1 oz Apple cider

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Luxardo Maraschino cherry (for garnish)

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

If you’re like me, you’ll get so wrapped up in the drama of this movie that you won’t even remember these characters are eventually supposed to break bread. As the day gets longer, and eight o’clock seems oh so far away, you start to realize that in the world of Classic Hollywood dinner parties, time doesn’t exist—it’s merely a suggestion. Cheers!

The Cider House Rules

Image credit: The Cider House Rules, 1999

When cider season rolls around, my mind usually drifts to Tobey Maguire learning the apple-picking ropes in this week’s film The Cider House Rules (Disc/Download). If you love cozy New England scenery, precocious orphans, and pro-reproductive rights messaging, then this one’s for you.

In a rare case of the movie being as good as the book it was based on, The Cider House Rules benefits greatly from a screenplay written by the author. I love a story with complex characters, moral dilemmas, and tightly woven plots, so naturally I’m a lifelong fan of John Irving’s work. He finds a way to make controversial subjects accessible and relatable, and this film is no exception. Yes, it covers some tough topics, but still manages to feel like a comfy sweater. Maybe it’s Michael Caine’s homespun Maine accent, or the sprawling ramshackle orphanage, or the shots of Charlize Theron in a wool coat hauling in lobster traps, or our newly crowned Sexiest Man Alive Paul Rudd in a dashing military uniform, but I feel like this movie gives us plenty of sugar to counteract the bitterness of life. And boy is there a lot to be bitter about in Homer’s world, and in ours.

Now, back to the cider. I personally love a dry, crisp variety as I watch the leaves fall outside, or when I put on a slow-jam Erykah Badu record. You could certainly pick a favorite brew to enjoy while you watch this film, but if you want to turn it into a cocktail, let me suggest this Rose’s Rules highball. 

Rose’s Rules

6 oz Dry Cider (I used Texas Keeper No. 1)

1 oz Ginger Liqueur

½ oz Lemon Juice

2 drops Rosewater

Apple Peel garnish

Combine ginger liqueur, lemon juice, and rosewater in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then add cider. Do a gentle roll to mix the ingredients, then strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with an apple peel twisted into a rose.

As you watch Homer Wells embark on his hero’s journey, take note of how he’s a man of principle, yet open to change. He has empathy and heart, which serves him well in any environment, from orphanages to orchards to operating rooms. A true prince of Maine; king of New England. Cheers!

Flashdance

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Image Credit: Flashdance, 1983

As Auntie Mame once put it so perfectly, “Well, when you’re from Pittsburgh you have to do something.” In this week’s film Flashdance (Disc/Download), that “something” includes performing a New Wave/Kabuki strip tease under a strobe light in the corner of a dive bar. All I can say is, this Steel-Town girl is having one hell of a Saturday night.

Requested by a long-time Cinema Sips fan (aka my mom), Flashdance should absolutely be watched with a cocktail while you’re hunkered down in your sweats, contemplating the physics involved in pulling your bra out through your sleeve. Jennifer Beals had moves, I tell you. Steelworker by day, aspiring dancer by night, Alex Owens has aspirations of dancing with the Pittsburgh Conservatory. On one hand, I applaud the fact that this is not yet another story about a small town girl trying make it big on the New York Stage. Though still a long shot for a dancer with zero formal training, Pittsburgh seems a little more attainable than Manhattan.  On the other, I look at this and go, Pittsburgh??? Girl, take your adorable dog and get the heck out. The weather is terrible.

Speaking of weather, the drizzly, grey location shots put me in the mood for a warming fall beverage. Research (okay, Google) has unearthed a bygone Western PA cocktail that actually sounds not as terrible as the name would suggest, and surprisingly perfect for this movie where a hot date is a visit to a scrap yard. While watching Flashdance, I recommend drinking a Fussfungle.

Fussfungle

2 oz Rye Whiskey

1/2 oz Burnt Brown Sugar-Molasses Syrup*

Dash of Orange Bitters

Orange twist for garnish

Combine Whiskey, bitters, and syrup in a shaker with ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into a glass filled with a large ice cube or ball, and garnish with an orange twist.

*Burnt Brown Sugar-Molasses Syrup: heat ½ cup brown sugar in a saucepan until it starts to melt. While continuously stirring, allow it to puff up, and the second it turns dark brown/black, turn off the heat. Add ½ cup water, and continue to stir. Add ¼ cup molasses, and stir until mixed and dissolved. Remove from stove and refrigerate.

Romance fans will love seeing a younger Michael Nouri in the role of Alex’s lover, long before he would turn into a silver fox and start wooing the geriatric set. The thing about Flashdance is that it should be too cheesy to work, but with its quiet love story, memorable choreography, and evergreen plot about a girl who dares to dream, it has somehow evolved into a movie with staying power. Being’s believing, I guess. Cheers!

Tremors

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Image Credit: Tremors, 1990

If you follow along with Cinema Sips on social media, then you know the pandemic ushered in a new weekly tradition in my house: Bad Movie Friday. While I may have started out watching disaster movies in an attempt to make myself feel better about the actual disaster happening just outside my door, eventually this evolved into a weekly date with a pepperoni pizza and so-bad-it’s-good cinema, covering everything from Armageddon to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, to The Stuff. To be clear, I actually love most of the movies I’ve watched on BMF, including this week’s blog pick, Tremors (Disc/Download). Just because it’s “bad” doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining.

Believe it or not, I’d never actually seen Tremors before last week. But now… I’m hooked! Thank goodness my library copy came with Tremors I, II, III, AND IV because I absolutely must find out what happens to the residents of Perfection, Nevada and their subterranean killer worms. Had I known Kevin Bacon had a starring role as Valentine McKee, or that Reba McEntire plays a survivalist badass, I probably would have watched this movie a long time ago. Also, with its string of laugh-out-loud lines and Kevin’s hillbilly accent, I was in deep danger of snorting my drink. Standout quote? “I found the ass end!” Cinema gold, I tell you.

Speaking of drinks, a little bit of research yielded the interesting fact that this movie’s original concept title was “Land Sharks” because these worm/snake Graboid creatures behaved like sharks on dry land. Autumn is the perfect time for a beer shandy cocktail, so I’m combining a little Landshark Lager with a twist on the classic Nevada cocktail. While watching Tremors, I recommend drinking a Landshark Bite.

Landshark Bite

6 oz Landshark Beer

2 oz Grapefruit Juice

1 oz Gold Rum

1/2 oz Lime Juice

1/2 oz Simple Syrup

Grapefruit Bitters

Gummy Worm (for garnish)

Build drink over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a gummy worm.

If, like me, you feel like collapsing by the end of the work week, I highly recommend the Bad Movie Friday tradition. It’s nice to shut the brain off for a couple hours, not think about whether a plot or a character makes sense, and just let the special effects and campy acting carry you away. And if you need an excuse to have that extra drink, just know a little more alcohol can only make these movies better. Cheers!

The Wizard of Oz

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Image Credit: The Wizard of Oz, 1939

When it comes to Halloween, Disney and Marvel usually get all the attention. True, I loved being Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and of course Ariel from The Little Mermaid (even though I had to wear a cardigan over my seashell bra), but the costume I still look back on with the most fondness was that of a warbling, bubblegum pink Glenda the Good Witch. MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (Disc/Download) is a movie I’d seen small parts of throughout the years, but rarely all the way through. Watching it again from beginning to end, I was shocked to realize A) how short it is without all the commercial breaks, and B) that I am still unable to keep my eyes open after the drowsy poppy scene. Talk about an immersive experience!

I think we can all agree that without the talent of Judy Garland, this movie would have ended up in the dustbin of history. Color film is no longer a novelty, costumes and special effects have become more realistic over time, and musical numbers have gotten more impressive. But there’s something about Judy’s innocent yet accomplished voice that gets me every time. The way she utters lines that have become classic in our lexicon (There’s no place like home…) evokes a feeling of magic that has nothing to do with munchkins, witches, or fantastical scarecrows and lions. The Wizard of Oz contains so much earnestness, you get the sense you’re watching a production made by people who truly believe in the power of movies. The silver-painted tin man didn’t need to look within himself or search for a powerful man behind the curtain—all he had to do was look around at the key grips, lighting technicians, costumers, and camera operators to see real wizardry and heart.

As mentioned before, I always fall asleep right after the poppy scene. Sorry Dorothy- your script drags a little there. To keep myself awake, I need to mix a caffeinated cocktail and wait patiently for the flying monkeys to pick the action up again. While watching The Wizard of Oz, I recommend drinking this Black Emerald cocktail, adapted from the book Celebrity Cocktails by Brian van Flandern.

Black Emerald

1 1/2 oz Vodka

1 Black Tea Bag

1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

1/2 oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Club Soda

Fresh Mint Leaves

Steep tea bag in club soda for about five minutes. Add all other ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Add tea-infused club soda, tumble roll back and forth once, then double strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with mint.

Sometimes I wonder if Disney just couldn’t handle its main Halloween competitor and was always lurking in the shadows, waiting for a revenge opportunity. It took seventy years, but they finally had the last word as Disney World execs shut down the Great Movie Ride, robbing future generations of the opportunity to visit Munchkinland IRL. With its fake plastic flowers, colorful glitter sets, and bright yellow brick road, for five glorious minutes a group of tourists got to feel like Dorothy and Toto, dropped into a strange and magical world. Disney can keep their new Star Wars Land or Toy Story Land, or whatever lame substitution they’ve dreamed up—my home is forever with Dorothy, her ruby slippers, and a glistening pink ball coming down from the sky. Cheers!

The Shape of Water

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Image Credit: The Shape of Water, 2017

There’s so much I love about this week’s creature flick, The Shape of Water (Disc/Download), I don’t even know where to start. The 1960s setting, copious water scenes, classic film appreciation, and a surprisingly sexy amphibious man are my main selling points; however, you should also be forewarned about a gross, mildew-covered bathroom, kitty homicide, and the black, rotting fingers of Michael Shannon (which, for the record, still give me the shudders with every viewing). Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fantasy is the movie I never knew I needed until it was presented to me in all its aqua-tinted glory.

Full disclosure, I’ve never actually seen The Creature from the Black Lagoon. However, I’ve seen Splash more times than I can count, so “sea creatures in bathtubs” is not a new concept for me. But where this film surpasses that stellar Tom Hanks rom-com is in its subtle use of fantasy as an allegory for society’s persecution of “the other”. The thing in a tank at a Baltimore laboratory is about as otherworldly as you can get, but as his future paramour Eliza (Sally Hawkins) points out, he’s really not so different from her, or any other human. His primary desires are freedom and love—can’t we all say the same about ourselves?

Speaking of love, Eliza’s neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) goes looking for it in all the wrong places, including a terrible pie shop. He subjects himself to far too many slices of rancid key lime pie in order to talk to the cute guy behind the counter—a guy who, as it turns out, is definitely not worth his time. But you can enjoy a little bit of that florescent green flavor in this twist on the Pisco sour, the Key Lime Tequila Sour.

Key Lime Tequila Sour

2 oz Silver Tequila

½ oz Patrón Citrónge liqueur

1 oz Key Lime Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

1 egg white

Pinch of Sea Salt

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Combine tequila, lime liqueur, key lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, and salt in a shaker without ice. Shake vigorously for ten seconds, then add ice. Shake for another thirty seconds, then strain into a glass. Garnish with a dash of Angostura Bitters.

If you enjoy the films of Douglas Sirk, you’ll find a lot of familiar elements in The Shape of Water. It’s a defiant love story, set under the backdrops of beautiful mid-century style, an intolerant society, and a stirring musical score.  When the credits roll at the end of this, and the spell is finally broken, you’ll still be floating. Cheers!

Beauty and the Beast

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Image credit: Beauty and the Beast, 2017

Ask any female bookworm who grew up in the ’90s what her favorite Disney movie was, and you’d probably get the same answer- Beauty and the Beast (Disc/Download). Smart, shy girl doesn’t fit in with the people in her small town, longs for the type of adventure she’s only read about in stories, but feels resigned to a quiet life with her dad and his gadgets. Then, a gruff hero comes into her life and woos her with a library and fancy soup. To say that I idolized this character in 1991 would be an understatement. I had Belle dolls, Belle posters, Belle Halloween costumes, and even a prized Belle Trapper Keeper gracing my desk. I also had a Beast doll you could pull the head off of to make him magically transform into a human (which, looking back on it, was a little creepy). In short, I was A FAN. I was skeptical that a live action version of this tale could ever work, but I should have known Disney would make all my adult Belle dreams come true too.

I remember the first time I saw this adaptation in the theater a few years ago. Emma Watson opened her mouth to sing “Little town, it’s a quiet village….” and reader, I got goosebumps. These songs were so ingrained in my memory that I could recall every word and note with perfect precision. It was like a trip back to childhood, where movies seemed completely wondrous, and characters lived in your head in a way they simply don’t when you’re an adult. I loved A Star Is Born, but let’s just say I don’t have Jackson or Ally dolls in my bedroom. But hey, if Disney wants to make a Dan Stevens “Beast” doll, or even a Luke Evans “Gaston” doll with that show-stopping baritone voice recorded on a pull string, they’ve still got a buyer in me.

Taking place in a small French village, and featuring a magic rose that slowly drops its petals, this movie deserves the kind of cocktail you could enjoy sipping for hours in a gigantic library by the light of a talking candelabra. While watching Beauty and the Beast, I recommend drinking a Rosewater Gimlet.

Rosewater Gimlet

2 oz Gin

1 oz Lime Juice

¾ oz Simple Syrup

½ oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

3 drops Rosewater

Rose Petal garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass containing an ice ball. Garnish with a rose petal.

Although there are some new tunes added to this version, the standout song is still “Tale as Old as Time”, sung here by Emma Thompson instead of Angela Lansbury. Really, this is the perfect anthem, for what’s more classic than an enemies-to-lovers story featuring a plucky girl and a gruff hero with a heart of gold? Thirty years later and it’s still bringing me as much joy as it did when I was eight. Cheers!

Black Swan

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-Image credit: Black Swan, 2010

With spooky movie season upon us, I decided it was time to watch a few creature features that highlight incredible achievements in movie costuming and visual effects. Kicking things off is the psycho-sexual horror film Black Swan (Disc/Download), which includes some truly disturbing imagery and themes. If you have a phobia about fingernails, cracking bones, and peeling cuticles, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

Not to be confused with my other favorite ballet movie Center Stage, Black Swan showcases the gritty, violent world of New York City dancers, swapping out cute scenes of first dates and salsa moves with bloody appendages and ecstasy-fueled club nights. Peter Gallagher’s artistic director has been replaced with a sexy, sadistic Vincent Cassell, who pits Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis against one another to achieve his goal of finding the perfect dancer to embody both the Black and White swans in a new production of Swan Lake. As the angelic Nina (Portman) descends deeper into the dark world of the Black Swan, we see her lose her grip on reality as this search for perfection leads to loss of control. With hallucinatory tricks such as feathers sprouting from beneath her skin and a doppelgänger dancer in the mirror, the viewer starts to lose their own sense of reality right along with her.

For a dark movie like this, I need a dark, booze-forward drink to calm my nerves. Play up that Black Swan energy this week with this variation on a Black Feather cocktail.

Black Feather

2 oz Brandy

1 oz Lillet Blanc

1/2 oz Cointreau

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Lemon Twist

Combine Brandy, Lillet, Cointreau, and bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Although I find myself covering my eyes any time Nina starts to pick at a patch of her skin (I can’t handle the cuticle ripping!!!!!), I can also relate to the debilitating way perfectionism tends to manifest itself. If true greatness can only be achieved through the loss of control, well, I guess I need to chill out with a few more cocktails. Cheers!

Me Without You

Image Credit: Me Without You, 2001

I love a film that feels like a really great book, especially when it falls under my favorite “women’s fiction” umbrella (and yes, I still HATE that publishing term). Me Without You (Disc/Download) is exactly this type of movie, full of complex characters, pitch perfect style, and the realistic portrayal of a toxic female friendship. Written and directed by Sandra Goldbacher, this one will have you itching for a cozy night in bed with your books and fingerless gloves while the world outside feels like a cocaine-fueled underground party in the ’80s. (And yes, you can probably already tell which of the two women pictured above I most relate to. Although, to be fair, Anna Friel’s leopard coat IS fabulous.)

Holly and Marina (Michelle Williams and Anna Friel) are childhood friends, growing up next door to one another in an English suburb. Holly’s the shy one, Marina the bold one, and their codependent relationship carries them through thirty years of bad boyfriends, wild fashion fads, and family drama. At first we feel sorry for Marina, coming from a house where mom (Trudie Styler) likes to drink gin & tonics in her shag-covered sunken living room while dad is out cheating with anything that moves, but her constant betrayals of Holly become almost too much to bear. Sabotaging any chance her friend has for happiness, over and over again, we start to see how manipulative and needy this girl really is. Honestly, if I were Marina, I’d have been done with this relationship the second my “friend” fashioned an unflattering dress out of a garbage bag on their way to hang out with The Clash, but that’s just me.

Shot in Surrey and along the coast of the Isle of Man, this movie is extremely British. Therefore it calls for one of my favorite British exports, Sloe Gin. A simple drink gussied up with a little edible glitter, I can almost imagine Marine and Holly mixing this on their endless afternoons when they’re so bored. Frankly, until they’ve experienced a pandemic lockdown, these girls don’t know “bored”. While watching Me Without You, I recommend drinking a Sloe Gin Mule.

Sloe Gin Mule

2 oz Sloe Gin

3/4 oz Lime Juice

6 oz Ginger Beer

Pinch of edible glitter

Lime Slice

Build drink over ice, stirring gently to combine. Top with lime slice, and a pinch of edible glitter.

With a fantastic soundtrack, gorgeous costumes, and stellar production design, this movie completely immerses the viewer in the decades of the late 20th century. It may not have been based on a novel, the likes of which Holly would love to write, but Me Without You still feels perfectly literary to me. Cheers!

Staying Alive

Image credit: Staying Alive, 1983

Two great things came out of the year 1983—me, and this week’s Cinema Sips pick, Staying Alive (Disc/Download). I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this the movie where John Travolta does hip thrusts next to Jamie Lee Curtis? The answer is no, that’s a weird little flick called Perfect. Which, I admit, is what I thought I would be watching when I put on Staying Alive. Nevertheless, my accident turned into a happy one when I realized I might be the only person on the planet who thinks this is a decent sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Allow me to make my case.

First, I think we’re far enough away from that Bee Gee’s disco fever dream to admit that while SNF had some gritty, hard-hitting moments, it was still John Travolta in a tight white leisure suit strutting his hips on a light-up floor. It’s cheesy as hell. So when Sylvester Stallone directed him to shake those hips again in a Broadway chorus line, why was that suddenly too cheesy? Any fan of Showgirls will be wowed by Tony Manero’s big Broadway debut in “Satan’s Alley”, and yacht rock fans will delight in the soundtrack, featuring the vocal talents of Cynthia Rhodes of Dirty Dancing fame. Honestly, I want to believe that Penny left the trauma of her back-alley abortion behind in the Catskills and reemerged twenty years later as a successful Broadway dancer. This all seems totally plausible to me.

Back when I covered Saturday Night Fever, I paired it with a Brooklyn cocktail, a lower borough version of the Manhattan. But now that Tony’s moved downtown, it’s time to class things up with this brandy version. While watching Staying Alive, I recommend drinking a Metropolitan cocktail.

Metropolitan

2 oz Brandy

1 oz Sweet Vermouth

½ tsp. Simple Syrup

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine all ingredients. Shake well, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon, if desired.

Maybe I have an overly generous view of Staying Alive because I’ve been where Tony is (hell, at the time of writing this, I am Tony). I’ve crossed some hurdles in the road toward publication, but I still have a few more to go. Like Tony, I’m hustling, trying to make sure my dream stays alive. It can be a hard thing to accept the fact that not everyone can be “one of those people” who encounter success incredibly early in their lives (and yes, I kind of hate those people). Tony and I really have to work for it, but man—do we have potential. Cheers!