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Niagara

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Niagara

Image Credit: Niagara, 1953

I’m channeling my inner Marilyn this week with a trip to Niagara Falls, aka “Canada Vegas”.  If you want to get a sense of what this kitschy natural wonder is all about, look no further than the classic film noir Niagara (Disc/Download).  It’s a bold move to set a murder mystery in the capital of retro honeymoons, but the gamble pays off.  I’m not thinking about what germs are lurking in those heart-shaped bathtubs—I want to see if anyone’s getting pushed over the edge!

Starring Marilyn Monroe as a sultry adulteress plotting to murder her husband (Joseph Cotton), Niagara has a strong Hitchcockian vibe.  Although shot in color, the film is still considered a noir due to its heavy use of shadow and double-crossing villains.  The acting is fairly campy, but you can’t take your eyes off Marilyn in her hot pink dress and hips that don’t quit.  I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say, there’s murder, there’s suspense, and there’s A LOT of water.  Thanks to this movie, I’m inspired to wear my pink dress and sturdy shoes to the falls, and I plan on being extra-nice to my husband.  Maybe we’ll both make it through alive.

Conveniently, there’s a classic cocktail named after this tourist mecca that’s right in my wheelhouse. Sparkling and vodka-based, this will make you feel like you’re partying with Marilyn.  While watching Niagara, I recommend drinking a Niagara Falls cocktail.

Niagara Falls

1 oz Vodka

1 oz Cointreau

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

Ginger Ale

Combine Vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a champagne flute.  Top with ginger ale.

Niagara Falls

I love films where the setting plays an integral role in the story, and indeed, this film could not have taken place anywhere else.  You need the pounding water, the unrelenting spray, the slippery tourist paths to bring a sense of danger.  Niagara had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, like a boat hurtling toward the edge of the Falls.  Here’s hoping my own trip is a little less stressful.  Cheers!

The Swimmer

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The Swimmer

Image credit: The Swimmer, 1968

In stumbling across The Swimmer (Disc/Download), I’ve found a film tailor made for Cinema Sips.  Made in the 1960s, featuring swimming pools and a hell of a lot of alcohol, this is the visual culmination of all my daydreams.

Based on a John Cheever story, The Swimmer stars Burt Lancaster as a sort of proto-Don Draper. He’s a mad man without a compass, having driven away his family long before the story begins, and largely in denial about his crumbling life.  While attending a party at his Connecticut neighbor’s house, he decides he’ll swim home through all the nearby pools, down a sapphire river of suburbia.  It’s not until the end that he realizes home doesn’t exist for him anymore—he’s completely alone. Throughout his journey, he encounters hungover couples who still clutch glasses of gin, a pair of elderly nudists, a doe-eyed teenager with a crush, and oddly enough, Joan Rivers.  At every stop he’s offered a drink, enabling him to swim and imbibe his way through the film.  The story is sad, at times bizarre, but still relatable.  What are pools, and cocktails, if not an escape?

The Swimmer also introduced me to perhaps the one drink I have zero interest in: the Bull Shot. Like a Bloody Mary made with beef broth instead of tomato juice, watching Burt drink his hefty glass of brown was pretty stomach turning.  Let’s celebrate the better parts of summer with a sweeter, more palatable drink:  Sugar on Strawberries.

Sugar on Strawberries

Sugar

3 strawberries

2 oz vodka

½ oz simple syrup

½ oz lemon juice

1 oz champagne

Wet the rim of a martini glass with lemon juice, then dip in sugar.  Set aside. Muddle the strawberries with simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker.  Fill with ice, then add the vodka and lemon juice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into prepared glass. Top with champagne.     

Sugar on Strawberries

Book pictured: Poolside With Slim Aarons

I don’t know what it is about swimming pools, but I’m undeniably drawn to them.  I have no desire to own one; I just want to look at them all day.  Maybe, like Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer, I’m responding to what they represent—an idea of American leisure and luxury.  Maybe I’m an explorer too, imagining what lies beneath the water of those giant turquoise boxes.  Or maybe, I simply want to know what it’s like to feel cool on a hot summer day. Cheers!

Notting Hill

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Julia Roberts & Hugh GrantNotting Hill

©Universal Studios

Image credit: Notting Hill, 1999

It’s been twenty years since Julia Roberts walked into Hugh Grant’s travel bookshop in Notting Hill (Disc/Download), but to me it feels like yesterday.  Everything seems to be right where I left it—the house with the blue door, the inedible guinea fowl, the “fruitarian”— and it’s all still as endearing as it once was.  Hugh may have lost the stutter and floppy hair IRL, but thankfully, William Thacker is immortal.

In this script written by the master of rom-coms Richard Curtis, average guy Will meets-cute with movie star Anna on the colorful streets of London’s Notting Hill.  He plays it cool while selling books, then gets adorably flummoxed after spilling orange juice on her.  Hugh Grant is the perfect blend of respectful and starstruck, with a dash of charm he just can’t turn off, and Julia Roberts is at her best, making us believe she really is just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.  She makes us understand that to her,  fame doesn’t matter, and if she had it her way, she’d get to hang out at quirky dinner parties with normal folks and act, without having to choose between the two.  Given her gradual real-life retreat from the big screen, I have to think maybe Julia took some lessons from Anna Scott.

My favorite way to spend an afternoon is watching Hugh Grant stutter his way through a love scene. Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Sense and Sensibility are the trifecta of Grant awkwardness, and in Notting Hill, this results in the famous Apricot & Honey scene. Personally, I don’t need apricots soaked in honey, but I wouldn’t say no to some apricots soaked in brandy! While watching Notting Hill, I recommend drinking this Low Point cocktail.

Low Point

1 1/2 oz Apricot Brandy

3/4 oz Orange Juice

4 dashes Orange Bitters

Apricot Sparkling Water

Champagne

Dried apricot for garnish

Combine Apricot brandy, orange juice, and bitters in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then top with sparkling water.  Stir gently to combine, then strain into a coupe glass.  Top with champagne, and garnish with a dried apricot.

Low Point

You certainly don’t need a fizzy cocktail to enjoy this film, but it doesn’t hurt.  And if you spill some orange juice on your t-shirt, take a cue from Anna and put your couture on instead.  Notting Hill—I’ve missed you. I promise I won’t stay away so long next time.  Cheers!

Eat Pray Love

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eat pray love

Image credit: Eat Pray Love, 2010

I’ve written about several travel-centric movies this month, even gone to Spain and back.  And now it’s time to ask the question-  what does it all mean?  What’s the point of sitting in a cramped airline seat, fighting off jet lag, trying desperately to translate languages you only partly understand, and spending far too much money on shoes?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  To help me answer these questions, I’m watching the cinematic adaptation of a book that caused a generation of women to start saving up their frequent flier miles, Eat Pray Love (Disc/Download).

When I first saw this film almost ten years ago, I was underwhelmed.  It felt too long, too full of bumper sticker philosophy, too privileged. But now that I’ve grown up a bit, had some successes and setbacks of my own, I see it through a new lens.  What was once a story about an unsympathetic, deeply flawed woman traveling to Italy, India, and Bali to “find herself” (which in this case means eating carbs, wearing colorful scarves, and sweating beautifully) is now a permission slip.  It’s permission to chase happiness, to make mistakes, and to take care of yourself.  It’s permission to have that second glass of wine, to have the courage to extricate yourself from a relationship that’s gone south, and to do something wildly irresponsible (in my case, taking a trip to Menorca while I’m still paying off my new kitchen). If Elizabeth Gilbert’s book and this film have taught us anything, it’s that we only have this one life.  What we do with it is entirely up to us—a fact that’s equal parts scary, exciting, and empowering.  I may not have all the answers yet, but I believe balance might eventually be within grasp.

There’s a lot of beautiful scenery in this film, but I most connect with the scenes shot in Rome and Naples.  The pizza! The pasta!  The delightful small cars!  To celebrate this search for pleasure, I’ll be making a cocktail I found on my own travels, which uses my favorite summertime Italian aperitif. While watching Eat Pray Love, I recommend drinking an Aperol Sour.

Aperol Sour

2 oz Aperol

½ oz Gin

¾ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

1 egg white

Orange peel for garnish

Add Aperol, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white to a cocktail shaker.  Do a dry shake to combine, then add ice.  Shake vigorously until chilled and frothy (about a minute).  Strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with an orange peel.

Aperol Sour

On my recent vacation, I spent a lot of time on the beach reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s other bestselling book, Big Magic.  In the way that Eat Pray Love encourages us to find balance in our lives, Big Magic encourages us to find the creative energy within and let it out into the world.  This may all be a lot of self-help mumbo jumbo, but I can’t deny that both of these books, and this film, have brought new energy into my writing.  And I give special thanks to Eat Pray Love for introducing me to my favorite mantra: Smile with your liver.  Cheers!

Call Me by Your Name

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call me by your name

Image credit: Call Me By Your Name, 2017.

I’ve already featured this week’s film Call Me by Your Name (Disc/Download) on my Top Five list for 2017, but now it’s time for an official cocktail pairing.  And let’s face it- I’ll use any excuse to sink into the eyes of Timothée Chalamet for a couple hours. Join me in remembering what it was like to be young, in love, and very very passionate about fruit.

Based on the gut-wrenchingly beautiful novel by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is set in a small Italian village in 1983. Archaeology grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) travels to a professor’s villa in Italy to help with research for the summer.  There he meets the professor’s teenage son Elio, and the two share flirtatious glances across the breakfast table.  Tension builds and builds, until at long last they become lovers.  Everything about this movie is beautiful, from the romantic script by James Ivory, to the lush scenery of Italy, to the haunting Sufjan Stevens soundtrack, and it feels like a vacation that’s just too perfect to last.  Kind of like the love story of Elio and Oliver.

I’ll admit, the peach scene in this film left me pretty aghast and/or awestruck, but it also inspired me to make a tasty summertime cocktail.  While watching Call Me by Your Name, I recommend drinking a Peach Collins.

Peach Collins

1 ½ oz Deep Eddy Peach Vodka

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

Splash of club soda

Peach slice for garnish

Combine vodka, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice.  Shake until combined and chilled, then strain into a glass filled with ice.  Top with club soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a peach slice.

peach collins

There’s been talk of a sequel to this film, which excites me to no end.  Having read the book, I can say there’s definitely more to Elio and Oliver’s story that’s deserving of screen time.  In the meantime, we can sit in front of the fireplace and sob, wishing things could be different.  Wishing more movies like this got made- movies that show us love, and all its many forms, in beautiful, sun-dappled light.  Cheers!

Stealing Beauty

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stealing beauty

Image credit: Stealing Beauty, 1996.

The votes are in, and it’s official: Stealing Beauty (Disc/Download) is the sexiest movie ever made.  Nobody is more shocked than I, that Bernardo “Pass the Butter” Bertolucci managed to make a film that speaks to the angst of being a woman rather than just a base exploitation of the female body.  As a director, he carries us on a journey of personal and sexual awakening, and believe me—it’s a trip you want to take.

Stealing Beauty features Liv Tyler as Lucy, a nineteen-year-old American vacationing at a Tuscan villa owned by family friends. She’s come to Italy to find her birth father and lose her virginity, though not necessarily in that order.  A testament to the folly of youth, Lucy thinks she wants her first time to be with predatory playboy Niccoló Donati, never realizing that his shy friend Osvaldo is the real catch.  Everyone staying at the villa seems to have an opinion on her love life, making Lucy alternately blush and/or run off into the scrub brush with no shoes.  Repeatedly. When the loss of her virginity finally happens, we’re so keyed up as viewers that it honestly does feel like a release.  The movie is alive with desire and wanting, placing us right there with her in the rolling, sun-warmed hills of Tuscany.

Because most of the villa’s inhabitants are English, and we all know how the Brits love their gin & tonics, I’ll be enjoying something that combines the flavors of Italy and England.  While watching Stealing Beauty, I recommend drinking this Tuscan G&T.

Tuscan G&T

2 ½ oz London dry gin

3 oz Italian dry red wine

½ oz simple syrup

Tonic Water

Orange and lime wheels for garnish

Combine gin, wine, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with ice.  Top with tonic water, and garnish with orange and lime.

tuscan g&t

Despite its visual and thematic sensuality, Stealing Beauty isn’t just about sex; it’s about poetry and art and death and above all, life. It’s about being shaken up, to see if you really know yourself inside and out.  And of course, it’s about finding joy, whether it’s tits out in a sculpture garden, or diving for sunken treasure in the pool. Cheers!

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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vicky-cristina-barcelona

Image credit: Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008.

Yes, yes, I know, Woody Allen is cancelled.  But you know what isn’t cancelled?  My trip to Barcelona!  That’s right, Cinema Sips is headed to España this week, where I intend to drink all the cava in the city before flying off to a Menorcan cheese farm (because wine + cheese is YES).  To give all you readers a taste of my getaway, I’m featuring a movie steeped in Gaudí, glasses of Rioja, and strong female performances—Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Disc/Download).

Starring Scarlett Johanssen and Rebecca Hall, this film about two American students and their romantic entanglements with a Spanish artist (Javier Bardem) feels like a step back in time. It’s the sort of dialogue-heavy, sexually freewheeling, location-specific movie that would have gotten made in the early 1970s, before focus groups and big budgets sucked the life out of everything. Shot in Barcelona and the small city of Oviedo, the country of Spain is its own character within the story—costumed in sun-drenched days, mosaic-covered buildings, and red wine-stained tablecloths.   I love films where the setting is key, and truly I don’t think this story could happen anywhere else.  You need the passion and fiery history of this place to make sense of Penélope Cruz’s crazy ex-wife character Maria-Elena, who goes toe-to-toe with her real life husband Bardem in an Oscar-winning performance. It just wouldn’t have the same impact if the film was shot in, say, London.  The viewer needs Spain to understand that sometimes, women go a little crazy.  I blame the absurdly low price-point of wine.

Speaking of booze, I may have gone over my weekly quota at this point.  But when it’s cheaper than Diet Coke, AND I’m on vacation, what’s a girl to do? While watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I recommend drinking a glass (or three) of Red Wine Sangria.

Red Wine Sangria

2 bottles Rioja wine

1 cup brandy

1 cup orange juice

¼ cup sugar

2 oranges, sliced thin

2 lemons, sliced thin

2 limes, sliced thin

2 apples, cut into small chunks

2 cups club soda

Combine wine, brandy, orange juice, and sugar in a pot over heat until sugar dissolves.  Add the fruit, and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.  Once chilled, add the club soda.  Serve in glasses over ice.

Sangria

The thing about Vicky Cristina Barcelona is that none of the characters are likeable.  They’re all incredibly self-indulgent, make terrible choices, and betray one another left and right.  And yet, I really enjoy it.  Maybe I want to live vicariously, to imagine what it would be like to run off for the weekend with a sexy Spanish artist.  But when it comes down to it, I think I prefer running off for a whole lifetime with a sexy American artist.  Cheers!