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Love at the Christmas Table

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Love at the Christmas Table

Image credit: Love at the Christmas Table, 2012.

This week’s Cinema Sips selection was prompted by my love for Schitt’s Creek actor Dustin Milligan, who once sported a particularly festive Christmas sweater and apron in an episode. I thought to myself, this guy needs his own holiday movie. After a deep dive through IMDB, I was delighted to discover that he already has one, Love at the Christmas Table (Disc/Download).

Before you go thinking that Dustin is the only big name in this, I’ll have you know that it also stars Danica McKellar from The Wonder Years, Scott Patterson from Gilmore Girls, and Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson as a boozy Miss Havisham character! I think we’re supposed to see a Great Expectations plot in this, where lovers meet as children then gradually discover they’re meant for each other, but it’s hard to grasp under all the mistletoe, twinkle lights, and paper-thin career ambitions (you’re a furniture designer all of a sudden Danica? Oh reaaaally?). I’m mainly here for the impromptu ballroom dancing, Lea Thompson’s fab office featuring a mini-bar and fake book wallpaper, and a creepy/cute cardboard house that looks like something a serial killer would have made. Danica, you might need to run.

Something that stays constant as these kids grow up is the annual rum cake at their holiday gathering. It gets boozier as they get older, which I am all for. Here’s a recipe for a fun Rum Cake Martini that’ll put you in the holiday spirit.

Rum Cake Martini

1.5 oz Kraken Black Spiced Rum

1 oz Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur

.5 oz Butterscotch Schnapps

2 oz Half-and-Half

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake well until chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass.

Rum Cake Martini

While the plot of this movie certainly has some issues, I’m willing to forgive a lot for charming actors, which Love at the Christmas Table has in spades. If you want to see what some of your favorite TV stars are up to, give this a watch. And don’t forget the rum. Cheers!

The Spirit of Christmas

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The Spirit of Christmas

Image credit: The Spirit of Christmas, 2015.

Sing it with me: It’s the most…Wonderful time…Of the year. That’s right, I’m talking about CHRISTMAS MOVIE SEASON!!!!  I’ve featured a lot of great holiday classics over the years, but now it’s time to move to the small screen.  We are living in the age of the made-for-TV Christmas Movie, and Hollywood just can’t compete anymore (see: Last Christmas).  Thanks to Hallmark, Lifetime, and Netflix, we’ll never have to experience this holiday without bland men in chunky sweaters, klutzy heroines, and cookie baking contests ever again.  There’s literally a movie for every day of December.  It was tough going, picking out just 4 or 5 for Cinema Sips, but I suffered through a lot of research to bring you the best of the best (really, it was my husband who suffered.  I loved it). Kicking things off is my personal favorite, The Spirit of Christmas (Disc/Download).

Remember what I said about bland men in chunky sweaters?  Yeah, not this movie.  The Spirit of Christmas features a sexxxxxxxxy bootlegger ghost haunting an inn for twelve days every December, mixing up cocktails, trimming his beard, and trying to figure out who killed him nearly a hundred years ago.  Enter Kate, the big city estate attorney tasked with getting the inn appraised for sale, who comes face-to-ghost-face with hot bearded Daniel, forcing him to open both his heart and his liquor cabinet for her.   This movie truly has it all:  romance, cocktails, actual snow, a little murder mystery, and cheesy supernatural effects.  It’s like they decided to throw all the genres together and see what happens.  The plot is ludicrous, but I’ll have you know that Daniel wears GLASSES, a vest, suspenders, a shawl cardigan, and in one glorious scene, an unbuttoned shirt.  And did I mention the beard?

Before his fatal death blow, Daniel made a living as a talented rum-runner in the days of Prohibition.  So let’s celebrate The Spirit of Christmas with this Rum Runner cocktail!

Rum Runner

1 oz Light Rum

1 oz Dark Spiced Rum

1 oz Banana Liqueur

1 oz Chambord

1 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Pineapple Juice

Splash of Grenadine

Fresh fruit for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a hurricane glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with fruit and drink umbrella.

It may seem a little strange to be drinking a tropical tiki drink while watching a Christmas movie, but honestly, it’s not as strange as the movie itself.  Case in point, Kate’s “gift” to Daniel is an old birth certificate proving that it was his baby who died shortly after birth, and not his girlfriend’s supposed lover’s. In other words, “Merry Christmas, it was YOUR dead baby.”  All I can say is strap in—it’s gonna be one wild December on Cinema Sips.  Cheers!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Image credit: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967.

This week marks yet another Thanksgiving for Cinema Sips, and although in the past we’ve covered cinema feasts such as those in The Godfather and Giant, I really don’t feel like cooking this year. Luckily, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Disc/Download) features no actual dinner; only cocktails.  In other words, my kind of party!

Made in 1967 during the height of the civil rights movement, this final Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film collaboration features Sidney Poitier as the fiancé of a white, upper-class daughter of two liberals who have difficulty practicing what they preach.  Sure, they proudly proclaim that African Americans should have equal rights, but when their daughter gets off a plane from Hawaii with a handsome black doctor, those beliefs become complicated.  Directed by Stanley Kramer, this richly drawn film presents all sides to the debate of love vs. societal prejudice.  The daughter (played by Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton) comes across as naïve, but with a pure heart untouched by prejudice and hate.  And isn’t that what we all wish for?  That kids would never have to hear ugly racist words, and never be faced with a “pigmentation problem” as Tracy puts it. This girl has found the perfect man, one who’s handsome, smart, and respectful, and looks ever-so-charming with a daisy behind his ear.  I’d say that’s worth fighting a few bigots for.

As this dinner party at a San Francisco mansion grows to include the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents, the central couple, and a priest, the bar cart gets some heavy use. Meanwhile, the sassy maid is hiding in the kitchen with her cauldron of turtle soup, wondering why these crazy people won’t sit down and eat something.  Let’s take our lead from the moms in this movie, those sensible moms with a preference for sherry and young love.  While watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, I recommend drinking a Sherry Cobbler.

Sherry Cobbler

3 ½ oz Sherry

½ oz simple syrup

2 orange slices

2 lemon slices

Cranberries for garnish

Combine simple syrup and one slice each of orange and lemon in the bottom of a shaker.  Muddle oranges, then add sherry and ice.  Shake well, until chilled.  Strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice, then garnish with a fresh orange slice, lemon slice and fresh cranberries.

Sherry Cobbler

As I write this post, many dinner tables across America are still deeply divided.  There is a chasm between young and old, liberal and conservative, much as there was over fifty years ago in this movie.  Equal rights are still a dream we’re fighting for, but as this movie shows us, it’s worth fighting for.  It’s worth it to stand up to your elders and say love is all that matters; hate has no place at the table.  Cheers!

The World of Henry Orient

The World of Henry Orient

Image credit: The World of Henry Orient, 1964.

YA literature of the 1950’s and ‘60’s knew what girls wanted. I think of it as the three F’s:  Friendship, Freedom, and Fun. Some of my favorite authors of the time period, including Jane Trahey (The Trouble With Angels), Mary Rogers (Freaky Friday), and Beverly Cleary (Ramona books) covered the three F’s so well that their books and movie adaptations will always be timeless.  Such is the case with this week’s film, based on the novel by Nora Johnson, The World of Henry Orient (Disc/Download).

In many ways, this movie displays a fairy-tale version of Manhattan.  Two teenage girls roam freely through Central Park, leaping over sidewalk trash cans, having grand and glorious adventures under the shadow of skyscrapers and brownstones without fear of being raped, murdered, or mugged. Marian and Viv are like charming characters from a Wes Anderson film (down to the fur coat worn by disaffected Viv); more concerned with meeting heartthrob pianist Henry Orient (played by Peter Sellers) than they are with their parents’ divorces.  In fact, it’s only when Viv’s adulterous mother (played by a sexxxxxxy Angela Lansbury) has an affair with Orient that the adult world starts to seep into their halcyon afternoons.  They’re suddenly forced to grow up, to realize that the people who are supposed to protect them aren’t doing such a good job of it.  Maybe all a girl can really count on is her BFF. And, a cuddly Tom Bosley.

The Peter Sellers character Henry Orient is a strange bird.  He spends most of his time having affairs and playing piano very, very badly. His name gives rise to some Asian-influenced style choices by the girls, including one scene with conical hats, and his apartment is very red and very lacquered.  He also sounds like he hails from either Italy or New Jersey, depending on the scene and the sentence.  Truly, a man of mystery.  While watching The World of Henry Orient, I suggest drinking this Red Lotus cocktail

Red Lotus

1.5 oz Vodka

1.5 oz Hana Lychee Sake

1.5 oz Cranberry juice

1.5 oz Lime Juice

.5 oz Grenadine

Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass. 

Red Lotus

There’s something about these vintage teen girl stories which resonates even stronger with me than the YA literature we know today. In discovering The World of Henry Orient as an adult, I’ve found a tale that feels like a cool wind whipping through the leaves of Central Park. It allows me to imagine an innocent place where precocious girls giggle, whisper, and “adventure” long after the sun has set, experiencing the heady rush of true freedom. Cheers!

Dick

Dick

Image credit: Dick, 1999.

Recent current events have turned my attention back to films about the Nixon presidency, and while I could certainly watch All the President’s Men, or Oliver Stone’s Nixon, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to watch Dick (Disc/Download).  A satire of Richard Nixon’s fall from grace, this under-appreciated gem is suddenly, gloriously relevant again.  Oh, Checkers the dog- how I’ve missed you!!

Starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as average teenage girls who inadvertently become embroiled in the Watergate scandal, Dick is a whip-smart comedy masquerading as an SNL sketch. Sure there are dick jokes aplenty, but there’s also a clever revisionist history that imagines Deep Throat as two Bobby Sherman-obsessed, shrieking blondes.  Then there’s Dan Hedaya as Nixon, BY FAR my favorite cinema Nixon.  He’s got the voice, the swagger, the angry little boy tantrums—does this sound like anyone else we know?  It’s a joy to see all the celebrity cameos (Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy, Dave Foley as Haldeman, Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward, Bruce McCulloch as Carl Bernstein, etc.) but my favorite cast member is Teri Garr as Michelle Williams’ mom.  She. Is. Fabulous.  She’s got a chic apartment in The Watergate, she enjoys cocktails and making out with Ted McGinley, and isn’t afraid of wallpaper.  Honestly by the time we get to a doughy teenage Ryan Reynolds, I’m somewhat fatigued by the star power in this strange little film.  And that’s saying a lot because who doesn’t love Ryan Reynolds?

Adding to the ‘70s verisimilitude is Dunst’s stoner brother, who hides his stash in the family walnut jar.  The girls unknowingly make marijuana-laced Hello Dolly bars for the president, landing themselves a sweet dog-walking gig AND peace with the Soviet Union.  I’ve come up with a Hello Dolly-inspired cocktail that’ll make this already-terrific film even funnier.  Up to you if you want to add some CBD oil to make it more authentic!

Hello Dolly

3 oz coconut milk

2 oz Godiva chocolate liqueur

1 oz Brandy

Crushed graham crackers

Walnut bitters

½  cup ice

Wet the rim of a glass and dip in crushed graham crackers.  Set aside.  Combine coconut milk, chocolate liqueur, brandy, and ice in a blender. Blend until smooth, then pour into prepared glass.  Top with a few dashes of walnut bitters.

I don’t know what the future holds in terms of our current political situation, but it’s fascinating to look back several decades and realize the script was largely the same then as it is today.  Crooked, narcissistic politician does something extremely shady, gets caught, then engages in a massive spin campaign to discredit the Washington Post and shift the blame away from himself.  The Carly Simon song at the end of this film says it all perfectly- you’re so vain. Cheers!

Zodiac

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Zodiac

Image credit: Zodiac, 2007.

I’ve already discussed my love of true crime on Cinema Sips, but in case you missed it, I have a thing for serial killers.  Especially serial killers of the 1960s-70s.  While I’m still awaiting that big-budget Richard Speck biopic (somebody PLEEEEAAAASE make this movie), I have to tide myself over with David Fincher’s Zodiac (Disc/Download).

After watching Fincher’s recent television project Mindhunter, it’s very clear that Zodiac should have been a mini-series. I personally split it up into two nights of viewing, because let’s face it, two hours and thirty-seven straight minutes of police procedurals can be a bit fatiguing.  But even with this lengthy run-time, it still felt like crucial details were missing. With crimes taking place over several years, the film often skips ahead, which is great for the case, but not so great for character development.  Jake Gyllenhaal is married after one bad date?  Robert Downey Jr.  went from ace reporter to alcoholic houseboat dweller?  When did all this happen?  But where the film truly shines is in the actual murder depictions, and in the questioning of potential suspects.  Fincher amps up the tension like a pro, making you wonder what sort of sick turn he’ll take next.  Will the couple make it out of this picnic alive?  Will Ione Skye and her baby escape from the car?  Is Jake Gyllenhaal about to be murdered in the basement of a San Francisco cinephile?  Is the weapon of choice an old Buster Keaton reel??  I CAN’T LOOK AWAY.

I’m a sucker for good production design, and it’s clear that this film was painstakingly researched. When Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. settle into a leather booth in a dim San Francisco joint, you can almost smell the cigarettes and aftershave.  Gyllenhaal’s character orders an Aqua Velva cocktail, so let’s stay movie-appropriate and follow his lead.

Aqua Velva

1 oz Vodka

1 oz Gin

½ oz Blue Curacao

Sprite

Lemon Slice, Maraschino Cherry for garnish

Combine vodka, gin, and blue curacao in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a rocks-filled glass.  Top with Sprite, and garnish with a lemon slice, maraschino cherry, and drink umbrella.

Aqua Velva

While this film certainly has its flaws, it’s still a thrilling step back in time to a frightening period of American history.  The term serial killer hadn’t even been invented yet, but nevertheless, they were out there.  Taunting us. Watching us. Waiting for their lives to be immortalized on celluloid…

Monster

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Monster

Image credit: Monster, 2003

It’s Halloween this week, and perhaps you were expecting a monster movie—the kind with Boris Karloff in heavy makeup, maybe some weird lighting and a spooky soundtrack.  But I’ve got something even scarier for you: Charlize Theron, sans eyebrows, in a film about a woman on the edge.  Monster (Disc/Download) isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you can handle the intense drama, it offers a rare glimpse into the fear and violence of life on the streets.

Newscasters love to talk about how rare the female serial killer is, like a strange unicorn in a world of Dahmer’s and Gacy’s.  But similar to some of these higher-profile men, Aileen Wuornos has been abused most of her life, driven to a kind of madness that makes her actions almost inevitable. Her first killing is in self-defense, but the rest are portrayed by Theron as a sort of PTSD.  Like the collective trauma of being a woman in a world dominated by depraved men is simply too much to handle.  In contrast to all the other films of prostitute-as-“Party Girl/Model/Call Girl”, with their impeccable grooming and charming romantic subplots, Monster takes a hard look at the reality of prostitution.   Maybe she was always a cold-blooded killer, maybe she became one out of necessity. But when Aileen snaps, she SNAPS. Honestly, I wish she’d snapped a little more and killed her annoying, lazy girlfriend (played by Christina Ricci), but that’s a complaint for another day.

Before the blood spatter, the film showcases the tender romance between Aileen and Selby, two women both looking for a little comfort in a cold, hard world.  All they want is some beer, maybe a little whiskey, and a warm place to sleep that’s free of judgement.  While you’re watching Monster, pretend it’s ladies night at the local dive bar and cozy up with this Blood Orange Shandy.

Blood Orange Shandy

6 oz Budweiser beer

2 oz Ginger beer

1 oz Pomegranate juice

1 oz Blood Orange juice

Orange Twist

Combine ingredients in a chilled glass.  Stir gently to combine, and garnish with an orange twist.

Blood Orange Shandy

The thing that makes Monster so scary is that this story could conceivably happen to anyone.  Maybe I have some devastating medical expenses, my husband dies, parents are gone, I lose my house, my job, my skin cream, and I’m on the streets.  What would I do to survive?  It’s this thought sending shivers up my spine because the simple answer is: I don’t know (cue spooky music).  Cheers!