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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!

Driving Miss Daisy

Image Credit: Driving Miss Daisy, 1989

The question I’m asked most frequently when I tell people about this blog is, “Do you come up with the movie first, or the drink?” Nine times out of ten, it’s the movie. But in rare cases, such as this week, I stumble upon a cocktail I want to make and find a movie to fit. The cocktail in question is a Whiskey Daisy, and unfortunately, I’ve already covered The Great Gatsby, Harold & Maude, and You’ve Got Mail. That leaves me with either Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Inside Daisy Clover, or the Jessica Tandy/Morgan Freeman classic Driving Miss Daisy (Disc/Download). As much as I love Doris and Natalie, I decided to go with the pick that gets talked about most frequently, for better or worse.

I’ll be honest, despite dozens of Miss Daisy jokes made while my husband drives me around in the classic car I recently inherited, I’d never actually seen this movie. A heartwarming friendship between a black chauffeur and the surly, clueless white woman he drives around? Pass- I’ve already watched Green Book, and didn’t feel like I needed its role-reversed ancestor. However, despite some problematic content that simply comes with the territory of a story set in a less-enlightened time period, I found myself solidly charmed upon my initial watch. Jessica Tandy is a delight, especially when paired with Morgan Freeman and perennial friend-to-vodka-lovers Dan Aykroyd. What could have been a one note allegory about racism in America actually ended up being a really touching illustration of the aging process and loss of independence. As the wrinkles get more pronounced, the glasses thicker, and the memories more jumbled, all the social constructs seem to strip away, leaving these two people with the realization that they were always more than the labels society thrust upon them. They were friends.

Now, back to that cocktail. I like the sound of this drink because it seems easy to make and uses ingredients I already have. Driving Miss Daisy isn’t really a booze-heavy movie, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it one. Just remember- no drinking and driving!

Whiskey Daisy

2 oz Bourbon Whiskey

1 oz Lemon Juice

¼ oz Simple Syrup

½ oz Cointreau

Club Soda

Add bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Cointreau to a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with a splash of club soda.

I’m not about to dive into the controversy of “did this movie deserve all the Oscars it received” because that’s an argument with no winners. But I will say, this is a film that knows how to take an audience along for the ride, whether or not it was a trip you felt like making. I’m glad I finally watched Driving Miss Daisy, and I’m even more glad to add this cocktail to my repertoire. Cheers!

The Shawshank Redemption

Image credit: The Shawshank Redemption, 1994

Odds are, if you had the TNT network in the mid-1990s, you watched all or parts of The Shawshank Redemption (Disc/Download) approximately 457 times. Scrolling through the channels, if this movie was on, you stopped what you were doing and picked up the story wherever it happened to be. Maybe you waited for the current screening to end, at which point they’d… run it again. Suffice it to say, we all love Shawshank, we’ve all seen Shawshank, so let’s have a cocktail and toast the ultimate “new classic”.

It’s tough to pinpoint what makes this tale of a falsely convicted murderer serving out a lifetime sentence in a New England Penitentiary so universally appealing, but I’m going to take a stab at it. I think we’re all Andy Dufresne in some ways, fighting and struggling to stay afloat in the face of adversity. Maybe you even have an impossible goal you’ve been working toward for years, carving and chipping away at whatever obstacle stands in front of you. It’s comforting to watch this smart guy play the long game and come out on top because it means all the hope and labor you’ve been pumping into the universe will be rewarded one day. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll make a friend along the way. Maybe a man who knows how to get things.

Based on Stephen King’s short story, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, this film takes place during the 1940s-1960s, during a time when Hollywood starlets reigned supreme. Andy hides his escape tunnel-in-progress behind various pin-up posters, which are somehow sanctioned contraband. Let’s celebrate his first leading lady with a margarita, a cocktail rumored to be invented for the lovely Ms. Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cansino. While watching The Shawshank Redemption, I recommend drinking this Marga-Rita Hayworth.

Marga-Rita Hayworth

2 oz Reposado Tequila

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz Pomegranate Juice

1/2 oz Lime Juice

1/2 oz Cranberry Juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a tumbler filled with crushed ice, and garnish with a citrus wheel and lime twist.

If you’re throwing a Shawshank party (and frankly, this seems like a fantastic idea to me), you could also serve up a bucket of ice cold, Bohemian-style beer for all your friends and colleagues, or even a Jungle Bird in honor of Jake. But I personally like this “slow sipper”, which will carry you through Andy’s decades of setbacks and tiny victories. As Red says, in that pitch-perfect Morgan Freeman voice, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” Livin’ sounds more fun to me. Cheers!

Cleopatra

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Image Credit: Cleopatra, 1963

I hope you stocked up on alcohol this week because Cleopatra (Disc/Download) is a real endurance test. It’ll take at least a few refills to carry you through a runtime of over four hours—and this is the short cut! If the director’s cut ever gets released, you’ll need a barge to carry all your liquor home.

Insane length aside, this is actually an incredibly sexy movie. History buffs will enjoy the scenes of Ancient Rome and Egypt, but personally, I’m here for the sizzling chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. “Liz and Dick” caused quite the scandal when their onscreen love story moved off-screen, but having now sat through hours worth of footage, it appears their romance was almost inevitable. How could Burton possibly resist Taylor in those cleavage-baring costumes? How could she not want to climb his muscular legs like a tree? It was always a question of when, not if. The film’s plot is interesting, if a little meandering, but if you enjoy a cornucopia of wigs, pink shag bedrooms, opulent baths, and the haughty attitude of Elizabeth Taylor in glittery eye shadow, you will not be disappointed.

Speaking of Taylor, this gal likes her gold. From boats to drinkware, Miss Cleo doesn’t skimp on the opulence. Celebrate her majesty with this gold-flecked drink, perfect for a Baccus-themed party. While watching Cleopatra, I recommend drinking a Golden Girl cocktail.

Golden Girl

4 oz Dry White Wine

1 oz Gin

½ oz Honey Rosemary Syrup (1/2 cup honey + 1/2 cup water + 3 sprigs rosemary, simmered then cooled)

½ oz Lemon Juice

2 ½ oz Club Soda

Pinch of edible glitter

Sprig of Rosemary for Garnish

Combine wine, gin, honey syrup, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, and a pinch of edible glitter. Stir to combine, then garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

I will admit, it took me over two days to get through this movie. I was so alarmed by the sight of Archie Bunker stabbing Ceasar in the back that I needed a break. However, once Antony and Cleopatra began their epic romance, I was officially hooked. This turkey may be all breasts and thighs, but those parts sure are delicious. Cheers!

Catch Me If You Can

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Image Credit: Catch Me If You Can, 2002

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away… to the glamorous world of 1960s air travel and check forgery. In this week’s film Catch Me if You Can (Disc/Download), our old pal Leo plays a teenage con artist posing as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a Louisiana attorney, all before his nineteenth birthday. The actor himself was around twenty-seven during the filming of this movie, so I ask you, who’s the biggest con man here?

In this pseudo-biographical tale of Frank Abagnale, Steven Spielberg has crafted a fun cat-and-mouse caper where bedraggled FBI agent (Tom Hanks) must devote hours of time and money toward catching a brilliant young criminal with daddy issues. Ultimately, Frank’s crimes don’t really harm anyone (other than the airline CEOs and bankers, I suppose), but nevertheless, the US Government can’t just let this kid run around, hopping on jets, sleeping with flight attendants, and advising on medical emergencies with whatever training he could glean from a few Dr. Kildaire episodes. I concur—this teenage runaway’s high times should probably come to an end. But boy, it’s a fun ride until that day comes.

If you were lucky enough to travel on PanAm during the 1960s, well then, you were lucky enough. I was unfortunately not born yet, but I can still celebrate the stylish, jet-set era with this tasty cocktail. While watching Catch Me If You Can, I recommend drinking a Paper Plane.

Paper Plane

¾ oz Bourbon

¾ oz Aperol

¾ oz Amaro Nonino

¾ oz Lemon Juice

Lemon Twist

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

An enjoyable movie that never lets itself get overly bogged down with the main character’s psychological trauma, this is a great pick if you just want to watch a smart guy do some mildly bad things, in a world where everyone looked amazing. And let’s not forget Tom Hanks’ Boston accent, the real MVP of this movie. It’s still working hard, long after retirement age. Cheers!

Inception

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Image credit: Inception, 2010

Let’s not pretend any of us truly understand this week’s pick, Inception (Disc/Download). Sure, we may have a vague idea of the general plot, but director Christopher Nolan, ultimate master of cinema magic tricks, has crafted a film so full of misdirection and ambiguity that it’s impossible to know what’s real and what’s an illusion. So let’s just pour a drink and follow along as best we can.

As far as I can tell, this film is about dreams and the people who infiltrate them. The goal is to plant an idea that will then take root and manifest as change in the real world, without the sleeping victim being any the wiser. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a dream manipulator who is hired by a rich tycoon to go inside his rival’s mind and lead him toward dissolving his business. Aided by a team of Nolan regulars (including Tom Hardy in a role where he actually has a chance to show off that pretty face!!!), Leo inserts himself into Cillian Murphy’s dream, then deeper to another layer, and deeper again, until he’s able to get to the root of what drives this man’s subconscious. So basically, it’s a dream, within a dream, within a dream, until the end when you realize the whole freakin’ movie might be a dream?! Am I in a dream right now?? Christopher Nolan has effectively made me question the very foundation of human existence.

In thinking about Inception as a cocktail, I realized that infusing alcohol can achieve a similar effect. You start with a base spirit, allow a spice or flavor to soak into it, leaving it forever changed. And with this cocktail, I’ve achieved double inception, going even deeper into that flavor profile. While watching Inception, I recommend drinking a Kick cocktail.

Kick

1 1/2 oz Cardamom/Coffee-infused Vodka*

3/4 oz Kahlua Liqueur

1/4 oz Maple Syrup

3 drops Rosewater

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a chilled coupe.

*To make Cardamom/Coffee Vodka, put six-seven Cardamom pods in a cup of vodka. Allow to infuse overnight. The next day, remove pods, then pour in two tablespoons of ground coffee. Allow to infuse overnight, then strain out solids through coffee filter.

One line from this movie stands out to me, particularly after a recent watch. DiCaprio says, “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” As I look around, at a vocal part of our society clutching so tightly to dangerous ideas at the expense of everyone around them and a rapidly evolving virus, this quote feels more timely than ever. What’s more insidious: COVID-19, or the denial of COVID-19? The temptation is understandable; the yearning to “wake up” and proclaim that all of 2020 and 2021 was just a bizarre subconscious state. An inception that forced us to appreciate the small things in life, like sitting in a diner booth, or meeting a friend for coffee, or flying to visit a parent. We’ll open our eyes, and the nightmare will be over, instead of just beginning again. But life isn’t the movies; and reality is different than our dreams. We’re already awake.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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Image credit: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993

After returning from a trek across small-town America, I decided it would be fun to see what the area around my adopted city of Austin used to look like before tech companies and tract housing took over large swaths of land. Did it once resemble the rural areas I’d just driven through, covered in corn fields, scrub brush, and the pathetic vestiges of a lost election? Or was it always papered in little boxes made of ticky-tacky? Research told me that if I wanted a peek at the Austin suburbs of yore, I’d have to go back to the 1993 Lasse Hallström feel-good classic, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Disc/Download).

Shot on location in the Texas hamlets of Manor and Pflugerville (that’s MAY-nor for all you out-of-towners), this quirky gem has the Lone Star state standing in for the fictional small town of Endora, Iowa. Gilbert (Johnny Depp) is the glue holding his dysfunctional family together, but even the strongest epoxy has a melting point. With a dangerously obese mother, mentally-disabled little brother, angry teen sister, and dead-end job at a failing grocery store, he’s one crisis away from a nervous breakdown. Even friends like Crispin Glover and John C. Reilly can’t pull Gilbert out of his funk, nor can the sexy housewife (Mary Steenburgen) who carries a torch for long-haired, high-cheeked delivery boys. No, it takes the sunny presence of Juliette Lewis, and the wide-eyed innocence of a young Leonardo DiCaprio to make him see there’s still a big life ahead of him– he just needs to grab it. Nominated for an Academy Award, DiCaprio’s performance in this film remains a career highlight, as he all but disappears in to the role of Arnie. It’s worth a watch just to see that level of raw talent.

Austin may not be covered in farmland to the North and East anymore, but the grapes sure are thriving in the West. Using some wine I picked up in the Texas Hill Country, I made a drink that perfectly captures some great local flavors. While watching What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, I recommend drinking this Rosé Lavender Lemonade.

Rosé Lavender Lemonade

4oz Dry Rosé Wine (I used William Chris Vineyards Skeleton Key Rosé)

1oz Lavender Simple Syrup

1oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Club Soda

Lemon Slice for Garnish

Combine Rosé, Simple Syrup, and Lemon Juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then pour into a glass filled with fresh ice. Top with Club Soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a lemon slice.

This film resonates with me in a lot of ways, but particularly in its handling of grief. There’s been a lot of that in my life recently, and yes there have been times when I’ve felt tempted to just set the house on fire, pack up my car, and go. But there’s another way to move forward, that doesn’t involve arson or abandonment. It’s looking around, taking stock of what’s important, and figuring out how to conscientiously unload the rest. Figuring out, like Gilbert, how to be a good person. Cheers!

Rear Window

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Image credit: Rear Window, 1954

There’s nothing like a hot, humid night to make you want to cool off with an effortlessly chic film and icy cocktail. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (Disc/Download) may take place during the dog days of summer, but it never fails to chill me to the bone.

With a main character loosely based on real-life celebrity/lifestyle photographer Slim Aarons, this movie seems tailor made to fit my mid-century sensibilities. But throw in a tense murder mystery, voyeurism, and Hitchcockian suspense, and this Edith Head-flavored eye candy becomes a masterpiece. I’ve always loved Jimmy Stewart in a Hitchcock film because it’s an opportunity for cinema’s favorite everyman to dig a little deeper. As we see him lock eyes with a killer across the courtyard, it becomes apparent—this Jimmy has a dark side. One that compels him to watch his neighbors with the lights off, studying their movements, becoming involved in their dramas from afar. He can joke with Thelma Ritter and flirt with his socialite girlfriend, but there’s no denying the slight element of criminality to his behavior. Watching isn’t murder, but it’s still a violation.

Speaking of Thelma Ritter, I’d like to toast this 20th Century Queen of “Telling it Like it Is”. As the nurse who tends to Jimmy’s  L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries and his broken leg, she admonishes his semi-creepy voyeur habits while simultaneously musing about body disposal and blood spatter. Murderinos unite! When the action heats up, cool down with this Peeping Tom Collins.

Peeping Tom Collins

2 oz London Dry Gin

1 oz Lemon Juice

1 oz Ginger Liqueur

1/2 oz Simple Syrup

Club Soda to top

Lemon Wheel for garnish

Build drink over ice, stirring to combine. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

With just a hint of a spicy kick from the ginger liqueur, this drink will make you aware of how hot it is outside, but grateful you have air conditioning (unlike the poor folks in this Greenwich Village apartment complex). And be sure to watch out for a scene in which three people swirl brandy for about ten minutes straight, literally hypnotizing the viewer. If this was Hitch’s brand of misdirection, consider me duped. I have no idea what happened in that scene, other than the fact that Grace Kelly likes to aerate her alcohol and wear chunky charm bracelets. Cheers!

The Revolt of Mamie Stover

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Image credit: The Revolt of Mamie Stover, 1956

It took all of ten seconds to get me hooked on The Revolt of Mamie Stover (Disc), a campy 1950s melodrama directed by Roaul Walsh. As we watch Jane Russell step out of a police car to noirish music, the camera zooms in just as she turns to face the screen with a scowl of defiance. Talk about an entrance!!!!

Set in Hawaii on the cusp of the Pearl Harbor attack, this DeLuxe Color soap opera features strong female characters, romance, tiki drinks, and vinyl records. In other words, just a typical Sunday night in my living room. As sex-worker Mamie Stover, Jane Russell is smart, acerbic, and focused on one thing and one thing only—money. Although tempted into the straight life by writer Jim Blair (Richard Egan), Mamie understands sex is her ultimate weapon. If a guy can’t handle that, then aloha, buddy. Don’t let the bamboo door hit you on the way out. Sure, she makes a legit fortune buying up cheap properties in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack (shot in an incredibly moving, realistic way), but she still can’t relinquish the power that comes with her regular dance hall gig. Mamie is the star attraction, and club owner Agnes Moorehead (!!!) will stop at nothing to prevent her meal ticket from leaving.

If there was ever a movie that begs for a tiki cocktail, it’s this one. I’m taking inspiration from our red-headed star seductress for this drink, which goes up in flames just like Mamie’s love life. While watching The Revolt of Mamie Stover, I recommend drinking a Flaming Mamie.

Flaming Mamie

3 oz Jamaican Rum

1 oz Brandy

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Cinnamon Syrup

½ oz Velvet Falernum

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

½ Fresh Lime

1 oz 151-proof Demerara Rum

Combine first seven ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Set aside. Fill a scorpion bowl with crushed ice, then strain cocktail into it. Place a hollowed-out 1/2 lime in the center reservoir, fill with 151-proof rum, and light on fire. Serve with two straws.

This spicy cocktail is a lot like Mamie herself- complex, hot-headed, and dangerous if you get too close. As much as I love to think of Mamie in a tropical paradise, cashing those rental checks forever, a part of me is glad she eventually decides to head back to her small, judgmental hometown. It means this revolt isn’t over yet. Cheers!

La Piscine

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Image credit: La Piscine, 1969

There’s a film I’ve wanted to feature on this blog for many years, but resisted because it’s never been widely available. In fact, for a long time La Piscine (Disc) was my white whale, missing from every streaming platform and physical media source out there. Eventually, my dad took pity and purchased an expensive Alain Delon box set for me, and I was finally able to watch and fall in love with this gorgeous film. Several years later, thanks to the fine folks at Criterion, it’s officially coming to a Blu-ray player near you. This calls for a toast!

Although I’ve previously covered Luca Guadagnino’s remake A Bigger Splash on Cinema Sips, La Piscine is the quieter, sexier, deadlier version of this psychological thriller. Impossibly chic, it features Alain Delon and Romy Schneider as wealthy vacationers in the south of France who spend their days lounging by the pool, drinking wine, and making out like teenagers. Talk about a dream summer! Things seem idyllic, until Maurice Ronet and model Jane Birkin arrive to throw chaos into the calm. Although the plot mirrors that of A Bigger Splash quite closely, the difference is in the visuals. The 1969 version is like a step back to a world where style reigned supreme, and tension lived in silences instead of shouts. There was never a world so beautiful, or so anxiety-inducing, as that of La Piscine.

Whether you’re watching this film or relaxing next to your own gorgeous pool (hey, I still think my inflatable version is quite attractive), you’ll want a cool beverage to take the edge off. Easy to make and perfect for the hottest days of summer, I recommend pouring a chilled Lillet Spritz.

Lillet Spritz

2 oz Lillet Blanc

3 oz Prosecco

1 oz Club Soda

Strawberry and mint for garnish

Fill a wine glass with ice, and layer in the Lillet, Prosecco, and Club Soda, stirring gently to combine. Drop in a few strawberry slices and sprig of mint for garnish.

Having seen several stunning screenshots from this film cross my feed over the years, I knew the aesthetic of La Piscine would be one that would appeal to me. However, I didn’t fully realize just how much this movie would be like a Slim Aarons photo come to life. It’s a world I want to dive into (pun intended), and now, we all finally can. Don’t forget your bathing suit*, or the wine. Cheers!

COCOSHIP Retro One-Piece suit, $29.99 on Amazon.com

*If you’re in search of your own sexy suit for pool-time this summer, I highly recommend this one! Unbelievably flattering, you’ll be ready to hit the beaches of the Côte d’Azur (or, more realistically, the backyard).