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Emma.

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Image credit: Emma. 2020

As any frequent moviegoer will tell you, 2020 was pretty much our worst nightmare. While theaters began to shut their doors last March, we saw our hopes for carefree, popcorn-scented afternoons dashed as quickly as that animated roller coaster flings itself around a cartoon soda in the opening pre-show. Perhaps you spent some time thinking about the last movie you saw before lockdowns, wondering if you made the right call. In my case, I could rest easy knowing I went out on a high note with Emma. (Disc/Download).

Though any Jane Austen scholar will likely critique this film’s deviation from its source material, to me it captures the spirit, whimsy, and fun of the book. Plus, in contrast to Clueless (my other favorite Emma adaptation), we get to enjoy the sumptuous costumes and polite society of the Regency era. I’ll always have a fondness for “Rollin’ With the Homies,” but there’s something about a choreographed quadrille that just makes me grin from ear-to-ear. Autumn de Wilde’s directorial style shows similarities to that of Wes Anderson or Sofia Coppola- heavy on style and symmetry, light on melodrama and manic performances. Anya Taylor-Joy is perfection as our meddlesome title character, and of course I adore Bill Nighy as her lovable, hypochondriac father whose greatest foe is a chill draft. It’s a pastel world of manners and manipulation, and in a year when literally everything seemed beyond our control, it was comforting to think of another character who had to abandon her controlling ways to find happiness. I was not alone in the struggle.

In the dark days of the pandemic, I often thought about the candy-coated costumes and production design of this film. Even down to the tiniest stitch or ribbon of paint, every element was an important piece of the visual tableau. In my beverage choice, I wanted to celebrate Emma’s love of flowers and bold pastel colors. While watching Emma., I recommend drinking this Night Bloom cocktail.

Night Bloom

1 1/2 oz Gin

1/2 oz Creme de Violette

1 Egg White

1/2 oz Lemon Juice

1/2 oz Simple Syrup

2 dashes Orange Bitters

Flower Garnish

Combine Gin, creme de violette, egg white, lemon juice, bitters, and simple syrup in a shaker. Shake vigorously for ten seconds, then add ice. Continue shaking until chilled and frothy, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a flower.

As I write this, I’m about to head back to the movie theater after sixteen months away. The flick: To Catch a Thief. Hollywood still has a long way to go before it lures me back with new material, so until then I’ll be enjoying some old favorites and savoring the memory of watching Emma Woodhouse dance with Mr. Knightley for the very first time (*sigh*). Cheers!

Magic Mike

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Image credit: Magic Mike, 2012

Living in Austin, it’s hard to escape the name Matthew McConaughey. Our local celebrity keeps popping up everywhere from University of Texas classrooms to the New York Times Bestseller list, and now there’s even talk about seeing him on the ballot one day. This former Dazed & Confused burnout has come a long way, but there is one particular stop along his long and winding journey that was truly unforgettable: the role of Dallas in Magic Mike (Disc/Download).

Say what you want about this crazy Texan, but it takes guts to strut around onstage in nothing but a g-string and cowboy hat. This Steven Soderbergh film about a Tampa male revue club could have easily been swallowed up by campy dance numbers and too many penis jokes (See: Magic Mike XXL). Don’t get me wrong, it still has those. But it also shows us the gritty underbelly of this sex and drug-fueled world. The odd thing about Magic Mike is that for a movie about sexual desire, there’s very little about it that’s sexy to me. So what are we left with? Raw performances, surprisingly beautiful cinematography, and the magnetic screen presence of McConaughey. Like a greasier version of Cabaret‘s Joel Grey, the Master of Ceremonies keeps us engaged, even when we think we’ve reached our limit of screaming women and wet one-dollar bills. Sure, there’s a lot to make fun of in this movie (Channing Tatum’s “furniture line” comes to mind), but this flashy scene-stealer is not one of them.

Now, I have a theory that Dallas is the original “Florida Man”, giving rise to a whole subgenre of trashy urban legends. Can’t you just see him pulling a gun on a McDonald’s employee because the McFlurry machine was broken? Let’s channel some of that Florida energy with a cocktail fit for your girlfriend’s bachelorette party at Xquisite, the Strawberry Mojito.

Strawberry Mojito

3 Fresh Strawberries

1 oz Simple Syrup

2-3 sprigs Fresh Mint

1 oz Lime juice

2 oz Light Rum

3-4 oz Club Soda

Muddle strawberries and mint with simple syrup and lime juice. Add Rum and ice to the shaker, and shake until chilled. Double strain into a glass filled with ice, and top with club soda. Stir gently to combine, and garnish with mint and lime twist.

As someone who has been to an all-male revue exactly one time (shout out to Thunder From Down Under!!!), I can say that the real thing is every bit as cringe-inducing as it looks in this movie. If your friends try and convince you it’ll be fun, just politely sit them down and suggest watching Magic Mike instead. You’ll save your eardrums, and your dignity. Cheers!

The Great Escape

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Image credit: The Great Escape, 1963

This might make me a traitor to the 1960s, but I’ve never totally understood the lure of Steve McQueen. After watching several of his films recently… I still don’t. (side note: am I the only one who realizes this man had a terribly unflattering haircut???). However, this week’s film The Great Escape (Disc/Download) is so much more than just a McQueen vehicle (pun-intended). Rather, it’s a well-choreographed ensemble piece that surprised me at every turn.

First, I assumed that a movie about military prisoners in World War II-era Germany would feature scene after scene of torture and random killings at the hands of the Nazis. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The film opens with a jaunty Elmer Bernstein score, where we catch our first glimpse of a POW camp that encourages gardening and crafts instead of starvation and forced labor. It’s all so… civilized? I was slightly amazed by how frequently the prisoners are left to their own devices, allowing them time to dig three tunnels, sew new clothes, forge documents, and manufacture gadgets to aid in their escape. My second surprise was that although McQueen gets top billing, he doesn’t necessarily get the most screen time. I actually thought Charles Bronson and James Coburn were the true MVPs of the cast. Watching Bronson crawl through those tunnels with his RIPPED arm muscles was a sight to behold, and I can’t help but be reminded of my late father, who served as a tunnel rat in Vietnam. Now it makes sense to me why he owned this movie (and why I’ve now inherited it)- it wasn’t about McQueen. It was always about The Tunnel King.

You’d think alcohol would have no place in a POW camp, but remember this is a civilized camp. Prisoners make their own hooch with the potatoes they’ve grown, which serves two purposes—getting rid of the excavated tunnel dirt, plus letting off a little steam. This week, pay tribute to those Allied prisoners of The Great Escape with this Dirty Martini!

Dirty Martini

2 ½ oz Potato Vodka

½ oz Dry Vermouth

½ oz Olive Brine

Olives for garnish

Combine vodka, vermouth, and olive brine in a shaker with ice. Stir until well chilled and combined, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with olives.

It’s so interesting that the escapees didn’t just want their freedom—rather, they wanted to force the Nazis into devoting valuable resources to recover the prisoners. In that sense, the escape was successful. Yes, it has an unsatisfying ending for some of the characters, but nevertheless, this remains a fantastic cinematic example of what it means to be brave, selfless, and strong. Cheers!

Dangerous Beauty

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Image credit: Dangerous Beauty, 1998

If you’re looking for a movie that features all the heart, heat, and feminist energy of a romance novel, then look no further than this week’s pick Dangerous Beauty (Disc/Download). Based on the biography of 16th century Venetian courtesan and poet Veronica Franco, this will leave you swooning over sumptuous costumes, moonlit canals, and a powerful woman who chooses learning above all else.

Made during the late 1990s, when small-budgeted, female-centric pictures still had a place within the cinema landscape, Dangerous Beauty stars Catherine McCormack as the beautiful young Veronica who falls in love with Marco, a man far above her social status. Unable to afford the dowry it would take to marry him, and unwilling to settle for a loveless marriage to someone else, she is instead schooled in the ways of seduction by her mother (Jacqueline Bisset), a former courtesan herself. Veronica agrees to this arrangement because being a courtesan means having access to great libraries and learning institutions. Blossoming as a poet and a woman of intellect, she finds success in her profession, never settling for the easy option. Yes, this is a love story between Veronica and Marco, but it is also a story of a woman claiming her power during a time when women didn’t have many options. As she says, “an education is a woman’s greatest and most hard-won asset.” Not marriage.

Beautifully directed by Marshall Herskovitz, this movie will have you longing for romantic rides in a gondola, followed by drinks on a balcony overlooking the canal. Maybe if you’re lucky, someone will drop off a peacock or drunkenly serenade you. While watching Dangerous Beauty, I recommend mixing up a classic Venetian Spritz.

Venetian Spritz

1 ½ oz Aperol

3 oz Prosecco

1 ½ oz Soda Water

Green Olive

Orange slice (garnish)

Build drink in a glass over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with an olive and orange slice.

Of course, all good times must come to an end, and in Veronica’s case that means plague, war, and the Spanish Inquisition. But even when confronted with so much darkness, she never loses sight of who she is and what she wants. It sounds weird to say it, but as a teenager watching this movie, I totally wanted to be like Veronica when I grew up. Hell, I still do. Cheers!

Coming to America

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Image credit: Coming to America, 1988

There’s a rumor I’ve heard, and maybe you’ve heard it too. Apparently, a long time ago, in a land not so far away, Eddie Murphy used to be funny. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical—after all, I grew up in the era of The Nutty Professor. I know Eddie as the strange guy in the fat suit.  So when my husband sat me down and told me the comedian had starred in a really great 1980s rom-com called Coming to America (Disc), I decided to take a chance. And shock of all shocks—I loved it!!!

Although there are a few absurd disguises in this (Eddie as an old Jewish man? Pass.), for the most part Murphy keeps his juvenile gimmicks in check. As Prince Akeem, he’s surprisingly earnest for a man who has rose petals thrown at his feet wherever he goes. This royal yearns for true love instead of an arranged marriage set up by his parents, so he and man servant Semmi go to the most logical place for a future king to find his mate—Queens, NY! Once there, he finds shelter in a literal crime scene, a job at the local knock-off fast food joint (McDowell’s anyone?), and a sweet romance with the boss’s daughter. Rather than reveal his true identity, he pretends to be a poor immigrant student in order to ensure that his lady loves him for who he is instead of what he has back in Zamunda. Aside from some cringe-worthy scenes in a barber shop, this is a solid A+ rom-com that left me smiling from beginning to end.

Prince Akeem goes to great lengths to find his queen, but luckily you don’t have to. Just make this aptly named cocktail and pretend you’ve got Royal Bathers waiting for you in the shower. While watching Coming to America, I recommend drinking a Queen’s Park Swizzle!

Queen’s Park Swizzle

2 oz Aged Rum

½ oz Lime Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters

5-6 leaves Fresh Mint

Muddle mint in the bottom of a glass, dragging it up to coat the sides with oils. Add the rest of the ingredients and fill the glass 2/3 full with crushed ice. Use a swizzle stick to mix, until the outside of the glass becomes frosty. Fill the glass the rest of the way up with crushed ice, and garnish with more fresh mint.

If you’re curious about this film’s recent sequel (the oh-so-cleverly titled Coming 2 America– 🙄), don’t feel like you’re missing much if you decide to skip it. While it’s fun to watch some of these actors again, it in no way justifies having to sit through another Sexual Chocolate song. Randy Watson can stay back in 1988. Cheers!

Fight Club

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Image credit: Fight Club, 1999

You can tell a lot about a person by the kind of movie art they hang on their walls. Back when I was in college, the girls (and a few sensitive guys) tended to have Audrey Tautou’s precocious Amélie face holding court over their dorm rooms, while the “bros” opted for a variety of Tarantino titles. If you walked into a room and saw Adam Sandler’s Waterboy hanging over the bed, you knew to run. Oh, but then there were the Fight Club (Disc/Download) posters. As a female, they made me think, okay, this guy is probably not my soulmate. But do I really want to turn my back on Brad Pitt’s face right now? Women have stayed for a lot less. And, at least it wasn’t Boondock Saints (*shudder*).

I’ll be honest, it’s still not a love match between Fight Club and I. While I appreciate the taste of Chuck Palahniuk’s prose, it tends to get buried within the presentation. David Fincher is a master craftsman of mental illness and anarchy on celluloid, but once again I can’t help feeling (as I do with most of his films) that the editor took a lunch break one day and never came back. I love the hook of a man so dissatisfied with his consumer-driven life that his mind takes a sledgehammer to it, but do we really need so many stomach-turning scenes of violence, filth, and decay? That house on Paper Street may contain the incredibly ripped bodies of Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, but it’s so dirty I can’t even appreciate the hot men. And so then what’s the point??

Watching this movie again through the lens of a cocktail connoisseur, I can confirm that beautiful, complex drinks have no place in Fincher’s wasteland. This is a beer picture, through and through. Playing off the theme of dudes who enjoy a good toxic masculinity break, while watching Fight Club I recommend drinking this Paper Street Punch.

Paper Street Punch

3 cups Beer (I used a Mexican lager)

2 cups Lemon Soda

1 cup Ginger Beer

Lemon Wedge

Ice

Combine Beer, Lemon Soda, and Ginger Beer in a pitcher, stirring gently to combine. Pour into glasses filled with ice, and garnish with a fresh lemon wedge.

Although it might seem like I really dislike this film, rest assured that I don’t. I love the performances, especially Brad Pitt (and not just his abs, though they are quite spectacular). Plus, any cast that includes Meatloaf gets my seal of approval, forever and always. Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to go scrub myself down with a very astringent soap, while trying not to think about how it was made. Cheers!

Mildred Pierce

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Image credit: Mildred Pierce, 1945

This week, we’re taking a step back to 1940s Hollywood to examine one of the most iconic onscreen mother/daughter duos, Mildred and Veda in the classic Mildred Pierce (Disc/Download). Maybe, like me, you grew up with the Joan Crawford NO WIRE HANGERS image seared into your brain. Thus it might be jarring to see her playing a part like Mildred, a fabulous working mom saddled with a spoiled hellion of a daughter. If Joan was an abomination in real life, watching her play this patient, loving character only proves that she’s one of the greatest actresses of any generation.

Michael Curtiz’s suspenseful noir has a lot of things going for it: murder mystery, non-linear storytelling, beautiful clothing, a gorgeous beach house, and cocktails in just about every scene. And pie! Lots and lots of pies. In flashbacks, we learn that Mildred started out as a housewife who was just trying her best to give her children everything she never had. She sells baked goods to the neighbors, and after her husband leaves her for that simpering homewrecker Mrs. Biederhof, Mildred waits tables in a busy restaurant to make ends meet. Eventually, she learns enough about the business to start her own restaurant, which quickly becomes a smash hit. But is this good enough for eldest daughter Veda? Oh, no. She can’t stand the fact that her mother works for a living. No, Veda would rather earn her fortune through blackmailing and pregnancy scares. It can be frustrating to watch Mildred defend her child’s evil actions, but she’s a mom. She can’t help wanting to see the best in her daughter, even when that daughter seduces mom’s playboy husband for herself. Talk about a soap opera!

As I said, there are a ton of cocktails in this. Martinis, straight bourbon, scotch & soda—you name it, they drank it. One beverage in particular caught my attention during a scene where Mildred and her ex have a drink in a California tiki bar. I can’t transplant myself there, but I can mix up this simple, delicious cocktail. While watching Mildred Pierce, I recommend drinking a Rum Collins.

Rum Collins

2 oz Vida Caña 2-yr Aged Rum

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Simple Syrup

Topo Chico sparkling water

Lime Garnish

Combine Rum, lime juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with Topo Chico, and stir to combine. Garnish with Lime.

If you want to catch a glimpse of my dream abode, look no further than the opening scene at Monte’s beach house. Steps from the ocean, it features multiple bars, a glassed-in patio, spiral staircase, and plenty of lounge spaces, perfect for either entertaining or murder. I guess it depends on whether or not you made the mistake of procreating. Cheers!

Snowpiercer

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Image credit: Snowpiercer, 2013

It takes a lot to suck me into a story where everyone is cold, dirty, and unhappy, so it goes without saying that I was not expecting to love this week’s film Snowpiercer (Disc/Download). But after my initial watch, I remember turning the television off, staring at the blank screen, and breathing a single word- “Wow.”

Recently adapted for the small screen, Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian sci-fi action film has many similar themes to his 2019 hit, Parasite (which I also loved). Class warfare takes center stage as Chris Evans leads an army of peasants from the back of a continuously moving train, to the front section where rich folks enjoy such luxuries as sushi and saunas. This locomotive carries the last remaining humans on earth (after climate change and man’s follies have turned it into a subzero wasteland), and instead of a peaceful egalitarian community of survivors, overlord Wilfred has created a closed loop ecosystem of haves and have-nots. With a cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, and Ed Harris, just to name a few, Snowpiercer is that rare movie that keeps me on my toes from beginning to end. But beyond the flashy action sequences, there’s a real sense of pain and hope and desperation to these characters that makes me want to keep watching. I’ve got to see if there’s an end to this terrible trip.

Throughout Snowpiercer, food is used as a metaphor for the characters’ privilege, or lack thereof. From Ed Harris’s steaks to Tilda’s rare sushi, down to the gelatinous bug bars that the tailies consume (sorry, “protein bars”), this train’s menu is all over the place. I had a little fun this week with the protein bar theme, making a snack fit for us alcoholic peasants. While watching Snowpiercer, I recommend trying a Boozy Bar.

Boozy Bar

3/4 cup Water

1/3 cup Vodka

1/2 cup Jell-O (any flavor)

1 tsp Activated Charcoal Powder

Boil water and vodka together, then stir in charcoal powder and Jell-O. Remove from heat, and stir until gelatin is dissolved- about 2 minutes. Pour into block molds, and chill overnight. When firm, carefully run a knife around the inside of the molds and turn the blocks out onto a plate. Slice and enjoy!

This film always leaves me with a lot to think about, such as how castes can have a symbiotic relationship, each of us relying on the other to survive, whether we realize it or not. I have no idea which section I’d be relegated to on this train, but dear God let’s hope it’s not the nursery school. Now that would truly be my dystopian nightmare. Cheers!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

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Image credit: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 2001

Do you remember the first movie you saw after leaving home as an adult? In my case, it was August 2001 (just a couple weeks before September 11th would change the world forever), and I found myself alone in a dorm room, at a college where I didn’t particularly want to be enrolled. Instead of unpacking, I decided to embrace my newfound freedom and hike up the street to the nearest cinema. Like a beacon, the poster for Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Disc/Download) screamed out at me. Securing the last seat in the tiny theater, the lights dimmed, and reader, this was the moment my movie-going life truly began.

For those unfamiliar, Hedwig is the adaptation of the off-Broadway smash hit about a gender-queer East Berlin rocker who becomes the star of a small cabaret act touring across Middle America. The band “The Angry Inch” is a reference to the botched sex change operation that’s left Hedwig somewhere between male/female, and it’s through their songs that we learn the saga of how young Hansel transitioned into the fabulous diva currently belting out power ballads from under an impressive collection of ever-changing wigs. This movie is a thought-provoking exploration of gender identity and love, featuring one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. And for an eighteen-year-old girl who was still struggling to figure out a lot of things, Hedwig was an inspiration. This character forces us to look at the pieces of ourselves, even the ones we want to run from, in order to accept them all as perfect. Male, female, gay, straight, costumed in drag or naked in the street—we are all human, and must all learn to love ourselves in whatever shape we’ve assumed.

 A scene I particularly love is when Hansel meets the American soldier who would hatch a plan to get them out of East Berlin through marriage and the infamous “operation”. Lured by gummy bears, it’s like watching Adam and Eve take a bite of the apple. Suddenly, this young German’s grey world has a hint of color. Let’s toast Hedwig not with a vermouth on the rocks (because blegh), but with this colorful Gummi Bear cocktail.

Gummi Bear

1 ½ oz Raspberry Vodka

1 oz Peach Schnapps

½ oz Lime Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

½ oz Cranberry Juice

3 oz Lemon-lime soda

Gummy Bears (Haribo of course!)

Combine Vodka, Peach Schnapps, lime juice, simple syrup, and cranberry juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with lemon-lime soda, and garnish with gummy bears.

I’ll never forget leaving the little theater in Dupont Circle on that hot August night, feeling like my own world just transitioned to color too. Feeling like things were going to be okay because I had myself, and I had movies. And when the world’s a bit amiss, there’s always makeup and a tape deck. Cheers!

On the Rocks

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Image credit: On the Rocks, 2020

2020 was indescribably hard for everyone, but for those of us who love movies, it was particularly bleak. Instead of frequent trips to the local cinema, we endured a string of forgettable indies on the couch while struggling to focus on literally anything. I know there were probably good films I just couldn’t give my full attention to (lookin’ at you Sylvie’s Love), but for the most part I sat through a lot of 2 ½ hr-long “edgy” movies that made me desperate for a recognizable star, a decent wardrobe/production design budget, and most of all a skilled editor. Eventually, I just gave up, got a Criterion subscription, and said to hell with modern films. It was during this frustrating time that I missed a rare gem in the 2020 wasteland, Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks. I’m still annoyed it’s only available on Apple TV+, but I’m here to tell you it’s worth signing up for YET ANOTHER streaming platform to see this perfect marriage between Murray and martinis.

Truthfully, I will always give a lot of leeway to any movie that includes a swimming pool, cocktails, a cool classic car, and iconic hotel bars. The thin plot involving a woman trying to discover the truth about her husband’s affairs is almost irrelevant—I just want to watch rich people do their thing. It’s an escape for me; a glimpse into a world I can only visit for brief stretches of time. But oh, what a world. In this rarefied section of New York, Bill Murray plays Felix, a charming art dealer trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter Laura (played by Rashida Jones) through impromptu cocktail parties, drinks at the Carlyle, a late-night stakeout fueled by caviar and champagne, and a spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico. Is he dad of the year? No. He’s a misogynistic asshole. But he is uniquely himself—unapologetic, wildly entertaining, caring in the only way he knows how.

I know this is not the first movie I’ve paired with a martini on Cinema Sips, but there really is no other option for this one.  You MUST watch it with a Sapphire Martini, and imagine it was brought to you in a chilled carafe on a little silver tray. Picture yourself back out in the world, sitting in an iconic Manhattan bar, where you’re paying more for the real estate and history than the gin. While watching On the Rocks, I recommend drinking a Sapphire Martini.

Sapphire Martini

2 oz Bombay Sapphire® Gin

½ oz Dry Vermouth

2 olives

Combine gin and vermouth in a mixing glass with ice, and stir to chill- about 45 seconds.  Strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with olives.

In a year when most new releases made me want to either curl into a ball and cry, or spend two hours restlessly browsing social media on my phone, On the Rocks felt like a fun breath of fresh air. There were no major problems, no big issues to overcome—these people would all be fine whether Laura’s husband is faithful or not. Felix tries to force his daughter to give herself permission to enjoy life again, and that’s what this movie feels like to me. Permission to make a cocktail, watch some pretty people, and have fun for a tight ninety-six minutes.  Cheers!