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Author Archives: LizLocke

The Ref

Image credit: The Ref, 1994

Never has there been a more requested holiday film in the history of Cinema Sips than this week’s pick, The Ref (Disc/Download). After finally watching it, I understand why. In a year when we’ve all essentially been held hostage inside our homes, it makes sense that people would want to watch a Christmas film about a couple held hostage inside their home. This is exactly the type of dark yuletide comedy we need right now.

In a lot of ways, The Ref reminds me of a stage play. Most of the action takes place in one setting, the dialogue is quick and clever, and the choreography within the larger group scenes is perfectly executed. Denis Leary plays a cat burglar on the run after a botched jewelry heist (for those of you who’ve seen To Catch a Thief, picture the complete opposite of Cary Grant), but before he can set sail for the Caribbean, he’s got to hide out in the home of a bickering Connecticut couple on the brink of divorce. It was a little jarring to see Kevin Spacey in…well…anything, but as Lloyd, the eye-rolling, sarcastic husband of Judy Davis’s snobby, perpetually unhappy Caroline, he really pulls me into this scene of marital discord. There are a lot of side plots that seemingly go nowhere, but overall I appreciate the way this film uses Christmas to highlight the absurdity of wealthy suburban America. These people are heinous on a normal day, but throw Christmas into the mix and you’re one ugly pair of L.L. Bean slippers away from total meltdown.

Something I can personally relate to in The Ref is the bourgeois tendency to “try something new” for your holiday meal. I’m thinking in particular of the time I thought it would be fun to make Spanish Tapas for Easter. In The Ref, Caroline’s absurd theme is Scandinavian Christmas, resulting in a smorgasbord of unpronounceable dishes. Let’s celebrate her good intentions with this traditional Swedish Glögg. If you want to get very authentic, you can throw in some Aquavit. But if you’re like me and don’t want to be stuck with a bottle of Aquavit for the next twelve months, bourbon will do just fine.*

Swedish Glögg

1 bottle Red Wine

1 ½ cups Bourbon

½ cup brown sugar

Zest of 1 orange

2 tablespoons raisins

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced

1 Cinnamon stock

8 Cloves

Garnish: Blanched, slivered almonds, raisins, or dried cranberries

Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a pot on the stove. Heat, and let simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let it steep for an hour. Finely strain to remove the spices, and reheat to warm. Put a few almonds and raisins in the bottom of each serving glass, and pour in glögg.*

This might seem like a lot of prep for a drink, but really, what else are you doing this year? And if you’re trapped at home with a spouse you’ve come to detest, maybe you need a whole pot of this stuff to get through the holiday. So Merry Christmas, and let’s hope that by next year we’ll all be on a boat to Jamaica. Cheers!

*Note: If you’re pressed for time, and/or incredibly lazy about making things on the stove, you can always warm up some Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail Punch and throw in some red wine and bourbon. Still festive, still delicious, and extremely easy.

Top Five Holiday Heroines

This holiday season, I’d like to draw your attention to some truly fabulous on-screen heroines. These are women who eschew an apron and gingerbread house in favor of a glamorous party dress and strong cocktail.  If I could, I would toast them all with this festive drink I whipped up with my favorite spirit Goodnight Loving Vodka (because every great heroine should have a favorite vodka), and I would tell them, “Thank You.” Thank you for being an inspiration to me and all the other women who view the holidays as a time to look fabulous, to have that second or third cocktail, and to never apologize for one’s domestic shortcomings. This year, even if you’re staying home, I encourage you to put on a nice outfit, mix the following drink, and watch one of the five films listed below. Leave the baking to somebody else. Cheers!

Hollywood Holiday Martini

2 oz Goodnight Loving Vodka

¾ oz Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur

1 oz Pomegranate Juice

½ oz Cranberry Juice

½ oz Lime Juice

Dried pomegranate or lime for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a dried pomegranate or lime.

1) Carol Aird, Carol

Image credit: Carol, 2015

I’ve often said that nobody drinks a martini like Cate Blanchett, and this film is no exception. With Carol’s effortless style and seductive gaze, that cute shopgirl never stood a chance.

2) Gillian Holroyd, Bell, Book and Candle

Image credit: Bell, Book and Candle, 1958

Is she a witch? Or just a cat-loving Greenwich Village gallery owner with a penchant for spells and backless cocktail dresses? Come for the dark/quirky love story, stay for Gillian’s mid-century modern apartment. THAT COUCH.

3) Elizabeth Lane, Christmas in Connecticut

Image credit: Christmas in Connecticut, 1945

Throw a city-dwelling, child-free writer into a country home with rotating babies, a dreamy war hero, a clueless “fiancé”, and a meddling Hungarian chef, and see if she can learn to make pancakes. From one Liz to another, “Pass the vodka, please.”

4) Fran Kubelik, The Apartment

Image Credit: The Apartment, 1960

The epitome of Complicated Female, Miss Kubelik hides her inner demons behind a smile and crisp white gloves. But when confronted with a charming Jack Lemmon at the office Christmas party, she must decide who she wants in her life come New Year’s Eve—the womanizer at the downtown tiki bar, or the sweet man and his tennis racket full of spaghetti.

5) Mame Dennis, Auntie Mame

Image credit: Auntie Mame, 1958

The only thing that changes more frequently than the décor of Mame’s apartment is the liquor in her glass. Even during the Great Depression, Mame never sacrifices when it comes to her personal style. No money for a fancy hat? Grab some Christmas decorations, put ‘em on your head, and walk with confidence!

All That Heaven Allows

Image Credit: All That Heaven Allows, 1955

Although not typically thought of as a Christmas flick, the second I watched All That Heaven Allows (Disc) during a Douglas Sirk Deep Dive last summer, I knew I had to cover it in December. If you’re ever paranoid you’ve chosen a terrible Christmas present for your mom, reassure yourself with this movie. I promise, whatever it is, it’s nowhere near as bad as what Cary Scott’s adult children send to her doorstep.

To be fair, a television is not a terrible gift on its own. But when you’re A) refusing to spend Christmas with your sad, widowed mother, and B) have driven off the only hope of happiness this woman has for your own puritanical, selfish reasons, this television is the insult to end all insults. It says to her, “We know that you live alone. Here’s something to distract you until you eventually die alone.”  I’ve previously lamented the terrible children in classic Christmas movies (see Holiday Affair); however, the college-aged offspring in this one are actually The Worst. All Cary (Jane Wyman) wants to do is find a little joy after losing her husband. She happens to find it with a man nine years her junior (a flannel-loving Rock Hudson), but before she even has a chance to finish one martini, her friends and family lose their collective sh*t. Cary yearns for the freedom to love who she wants, and it takes the mother of all insulting Christmas gifts for her to realize she’s strong enough to tell ‘em all to go to hell. She wants Rock, she wants that flannel, and she does not want a television.

This is definitely a martini-heavy flick (it was the ‘50s after all…), so I’m thrilled to highlight a favorite holiday cocktail of mine. It’s strong, it’s flavorful, and best of all, it’s easy. While watching All That Heaven Allows, I recommend this Cozy Cabin Martini.

Cozy Cabin Martini

2 oz Gin

¾ oz Ginger Liqueur

½ oz Lime Juice

2 sprigs Rosemary

Muddle a sprig of Rosemary in the bottom of a shaker with lime juice. Add Ginger Liqueur, Gin, and ice. Shake well, and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of Rosemary.

All That Heaven Allows inspired another movie I recently enjoyed (Far From Heaven), and both are fantastic picks if you want to get swept up in a domestic drama featuring cocktails and gorgeous ‘50s dresses. But if I have to pick a favorite, it would be this Douglas Sirk masterpiece. It may not be overtly “Christmas-y”, but it reminds me of what I’m most thankful for every time this holiday rolls around- love, and a child-free life. Cheers!

It Happened on 5th Avenue

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Image credit: It Happened on 5th Avenue, 1947

It’s funny how some movies find you at exactly the moment you need them most. As I drive around my city in this cursed year of 2020, looking at all the boarded up businesses and tent colonies that have sprung up under bridges and highways, it feels almost wrong to participate in a month-long holiday of cookie and cocktail excess when so many have so little. At times, the helplessness I feel about income inequality and the slow death of the small business becomes a consuming buzz of anxiety, getting louder and louder with each sad announcement of another shop closing, another person leaving. I didn’t expect to find solace in an obscure 1947 Christmas movie, but that’s just what happened when I watched It Happened on 5th Avenue (Disc/Download).

Set in post-WWII New York City, this holiday romp about a group of homeless people who set up camp in a deserted mansion is the perfect mix of funny and poignant. The film opens with hobo Aloysius McKeever and his dog strolling down 5th Avenue. They’re about to sneak into the storm drains to gain access to mogul Michael O’Connor’s property, who has left New York to winter at his Virginia estate. After making himself at home in O’Connor’s tuxedoes and bathrobes, Aloysius eventually stumbles on a homeless G.I. (Jim) in the park and extends an invitation to spend Christmas in the mansion. Soon after, Jim fills those empty bedrooms with more homeless veterans and their families, and the cold house is quickly transformed into a shelter full of life and laughter. When O’Connor’s daughter discovers the squatters, she ends up playing along with their ruse while falling for Jim, and then the elusive millionaire O’Connor himself pretends to be a hobo so he can see what kind of people his daughter has gotten mixed up with. The movie is a delightful game of mistaken identities and witty dialogue, but it’s also a heartwarming tale of friendship and compassion. Sometimes, the only thing that separates the wealthy from the rest of us is one lucky or unlucky break—we’d do well to remember that.

Because these squatters have limited food supplies, I think a simple cocktail with a few easy ingredients works best for this movie. My favorite part of the holidays is the canned jellied cranberry sauce I pack my cupboards with, so why not try it in a cocktail? While watching It Happened on 5th Avenue, I recommend drinking this Community Cup cocktail.

Community Cup

2 oz Bourbon

1 Tbsp canned jellied cranberry sauce

.5 oz Lime Juice

Ginger Beer

Fresh cranberries or lime wheel for garnish

Combine bourbon, cranberry sauce, and lime juice in a shaker, and muddle cranberry sauce to break up and dissolve. Add ice.  Shake vigorously until chilled. Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice, and top with ginger beer. Garnish with cranberries or lime wheel.

If you enjoy movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, I think you’ll really love It Happened on 5th Avenue as much as I do. Although watching it didn’t cure my anxiety about the financial crisis ravaging this country, it gave me hope that if we could get through it in 1947, we can get through it again. The key, as with most things, is community. Cheers!

2020 Holiday Gift Guide

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Look, we all know 2020 is the year from Hell. If you put your Christmas tree up in September, you’ll get no judgement from me. We need the holidays right now. And more important, we need to show the people we love what they mean to us by sending thoughtful gifts or a kind note. This year, I’m doing my best to shop small, but if you absolutely must order from one of the bigger retailers like Amazon*, here are some great gift ideas. They all brought a smile to my face in a year when I didn’t think that was possible. Cheers!

  1. Fancy Sprinkles Prism Powder

If you feel like your beverages need an extra bit of sparkle to combat the dull sameness of life in lockdown, give this edible glitter a try. I started mixing a tiny spoonful into my cocktails a few months ago and never looked back. Glitter is here to stay.

2) Telescoping Straw

This portable metal straw is particularly useful now that so many establishments are offering cocktails to-go, but even post-pandemic, you’ll find yourself reaching for it when some bartender hands you a frozen beverage with a compostable paper straw. Just… no, dude.

3) Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused by Melissa Maerz

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew it would be going on my wish list. I’m dying to know who hooked up with who, and was that really paint they dumped on Ben Affleck??? BURNING QUESTIONS.

4) Soludos Smoking Slippers

These espadrilles are comfortable, stylish around the house, and best of all, they come embroidered with a variety of cocktails. I have the tequila and rosé versions, but I think I need to add another pair!

5) Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails by Shannon Mustipher

After a year of no travel, give yourself or someone you love the gift of exotic cocktails. January seems like a fine time to mix up a spicy rum beverage in a pineapple husk while watching Castaway, don’t you think?

*Cinema Sips is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

The Christmas Contract

Image credit: The Christmas Contract, 2018

Sometimes, I get a little tired of all the fake snow and knitwear in my television Christmas movies. The truth of the matter is, a great number of people do not live in a cold climate (myself included). Christmas in my adopted city of Austin, Texas means tamales, holiday markets, and maybe a light jacket. It does not mean sleigh rides and puffer coats. This year, like a lot of us, I’m staying home and not traveling to a beach or snowy winter wonderland. To get myself ready for a down-home, Southern Christmas, I decided to watch The Christmas Contract (Disc/Download).

Set in Lafayette, Louisiana, this charming flick centers around web developer Jolie (Hilarie Burton), a recent dumpee who finds herself on the precipice of seeing her old flame at the annual hometown holiday celebration. In order to make everyone think she’s not sitting home alone crying every night, she ropes her best friend’s brother (Robert Buckley) into accompanying her on the trip. Jack agrees to the holiday relationship scam because he’s seeking inspiration for a romance novel he’s been hired to ghostwrite. Of course they hate each other, and of course they grow to not hate each other by the end of the movie. Initially, I worried I would be annoyed by a man trying to explain how horrible romance novels are for ninety minutes, but to my relief, Jack quickly grows to understand what makes the genre so appealing. It makes people happy, and what’s so bad about that?

As Jack and Jolie dance under twinkle lights, attend campfire sing-a-longs, and go for romantic strolls along the bayou, the scenes reinforce what I love about Christmas in the South. It’s full of good, spicy food, lots of alcohol, and you don’t have to wear a ton of layers. One of my favorite holiday memories is the year my family all decided to meet in New Orleans. On the way there, I stopped in Lafayette for that great Louisiana beverage, the frozen daiquiri. Let’s give it a holiday spin with this Gingerbread Daiquiri.

Gingerbread Daiquiri

1 ½ oz Bailey’s Irish Cream Liqueur

1 ½ oz Dark Rum

1 ½ oz Gingerbread Liqueur

½ cup Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup Ice

Whipped Cream and Grated Allspice (for garnish)

Combine all ingredients in a blender with ice. Blend until smooth, then pour into a glass. Garnish with whipped cream and a pinch of Allspice.

There are some fun supporting players in this, including Cheryl Ladd and Jason London (aka Randall “Pink” Floyd, for all you Dazed and Confused fans), and even some stellar live music that belongs on the set of TV’s Nashville (RIP). If you’ve always wanted to see what a Southern Christmas is all about, from the gumbo to the frozen drinks, give The Christmas Contract a watch. Cheers!

Waitress

Image Credit: Waitress, 2007

Y’all didn’t think I’d let Pie Month go by without talking about the ultimate in cinematic pie experiences, did you? Frankly, I was shocked to see that I haven’t covered Waitress (Disc/Download) before now. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I watch it every year the night before Thanksgiving, on what we call “Pie Night”- a glorious evening when my husband and I eat all the pie we won’t have room for after the next day’s feast. Trust me when I say that Pie Night is the greatest holiday of the year.

Why is this the best movie to watch on our annual pastry binge? Because it features Keri Russell as sweet, strong heroine Jenna, a waitress who spends her days making gorgeous pies in a rural diner. Her combinations are inspired and often autobiographical, such as the “Pregnant Self Pitying Loser” Pie, and the “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” Pie. The pies are an outlet where she can vent frustrations about an abusive marriage, her elation over a secret affair with an OBGYN, and her fears about impending motherhood. Honestly, the movie itself feels like dessert. It’s got sweetness, a little bitterness, and just a touch of heat to make us feel all warm and cozy inside. Director Adrienne Shelley gave women a delicious gift in this movie, and I intend to eat every bite.

There are a lot of pies in this movie, but my favorite is probably the Chocolate Strawberry Oasis. I subbed white chocolate for dark, but the complexity of this drink makes it feel like one of Jenna’s lush desserts. While watching Waitress, I recommend drinking this Everybody Hates Earl Martini (because we DO all hate Earl).

Everybody Hates Earl Martini

2 oz Strawberry Vodka

1 oz White Creme de Cacao

1.5 oz White Chocolate Liqueur

1 oz Chambord Raspberry Liqueur

1 oz Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk

Strawberry for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a strawberry.

Although Jenna has some complicated romantic entanglements, the true heart of this movie lies with her friendships. The bond she forms with fellow waitresses and cantankerous diner owner (Andy Griffith) is such a joy to watch, and reminds me of what I’m most thankful for every year- good food, good drinks, and great friends. Cheers!

Blazing Saddles

Image credit: Blazing Saddles, 1974

Even though I’m not a big fan of westerns, I had to make an exception for this week’s pie pick Blazing Saddles (Disc/Download). It actually wasn’t that hard to do, since this is technically a western spoof, complete with Busby Berkeley dance number, Marlene Dietrich-inspired seductress named Lili von Shtüpp, and a whiskey-swilling Gene Wilder. Mel Brooks, you magnificent genius, you did it again. You made me spit my drink from laughing too hard.

Fair warning, the language used in this movie is sometimes difficult to hear, and in fact the film is often shown with a special introduction now. It’s actually a very progressive script for 1974 as well as today, but taken out of context, certain elements could be problematic. The thing to remember is, the ignorant racists are the ones who come off looking like fools, while the handsome black sheriff and his friends are the heroes. Like most Mel Brooks films, I don’t watch Blazing Saddles for the plot. I watch it for the one-liners, the funny character names, and the biting commentary on Hollywood and society-at-large.

The reason this movie made it into my month of pie flicks is due to the EPIC pie fight between villains, good guys, and assorted staff members of the Warner Bros. backlot. Normally I’d be sad about all these commissary pies being destroyed, but since it’s in the name of comedy, I suppose it’s okay. While watching Blazing Saddles, I recommend drinking this Pie Fight cocktail.

Pie Fight

1 oz Whiskey

1/2 oz Peach Schnapps

1 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream

2 oz Orange Juice

Whipped cream/pie crust for garnish

Combine whiskey, schnapps, Irish cream, and orange juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with whipped cream, and a piece of pie crust (I used store-bought refrigerated crust, cut out a shape, and placed in an air-fryer for 3-5 minutes to “bake”).

This cocktail is a great substitute for a cream pie, and if you’ve inexplicably found yourself with a racist sitting at your Thanksgiving table, feel free to toss it in their face. Far less clean-up than a whole dessert. Cheers!

Stand By Me

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Image credit: Stand By Me, 1986

It’s official—pie season is upon us. Although I think most of us can agree that Waitress is the ultimate pie movie to watch during the lead-up to Thanksgiving, there’s another film that highlights the true American struggle of eating a ton of baked goods in a short amount of time, while trying not to barf. From the brilliant, twisted mind of Stephen King comes this week’s Cinema Sips pick, Stand By Me (Disc/Download).

Directed by Rob Reiner, this adaptation of a King short story centers on four twelve-year-old boys who go in search of the dead body of a missing teen. With their bedrolls, canteens, and comb (thanks, Vern), they follow the train tracks from their tiny Oregon town into the wilderness. Along the way, they encounter a river full of leeches, a junkyard dog named Chopper, and a scary group of high school hoodlums (led by a menacing Kiefer Sutherland). River Phoenix is magnetic as Chris, the smart delinquent who’s protective of his sensitive friend Gordie (Wil Wheaton), while Jerry O’Connell and Corey Feldman provide some much needed comic relief. This coming-of-age story is funny, poignant, and incredibly relatable, even for those of us who didn’t grow up at the tail end of the 1950s. I think we all remember what it felt like to have schoolyard friendships that seemed like they’d last forever, but in hindsight were always destined to be temporary.

Now, back to pies. Proving his talent for storytelling, Gordie spins a fantastic yarn around the campfire about the sweet, sweet taste of revenge. In his story, a bullied teen gets back at the cruel townsfolk who taunted him by entering a pie-eating contest. Things are going well, until halfway through… well I won’t spoil it, but maybe finish your slice of pie before you watch this movie. Inspired by the gorgeous blueberry pies poor “Lardass” sinks his face into, while watching Stand By Me, I’ll be drinking this Blueberry Pie Martini.

Blueberry Pie Martini

2 oz Blueberry Vodka

½ oz Vanilla Vodka

½ oz Orange Liqueur

½ oz Blueberry Simple Syrup

1 oz Lime Juice

Fresh Blueberries (Garnish)

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

2020 has been tough on us all. If you’re like me, maybe you’ve found yourself reaching out to friends you haven’t talked to in a long time, checking in, making sure they’re okay. As Stand By Me shows, just because you may have lost touch with someone doesn’t mean you’re not grateful for the part they played in your life. After all, someone had to bring the comb. Cheers!

V for Vendetta

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Image credit: V for Vendetta, 2006

Remember, remember, the fifth of November. In 2020, something tells me it’s the third of November we’ll be remembering for a long time to come. Though, hopefully for less violent reasons than the ones in this week’s dystopian political thriller V for Vendetta (Disc/Download). If you’re like me and haven’t watched this film in over a decade, prepare to be shocked at how much of our future it has predicted.

A mysterious virus, political unrest, fascism, mistrust in the news– take your pick of hot-button topics that have morphed from fiction to fact in the past fourteen years. It’s often easy to forget that this movie is within the comic book/superhero genre because it takes so many risks, touching on ideas and themes that are more of a powder keg than anything V could set up under Parliament. And yet the titular character has all the qualities we’ve come to recognize in our archetypal heroes: masked man, impressive fighting skills, intense origin story, complicated relationship with a female, underground lair, etc. He’s a superhero, yet his world is not a mythical Gotham– it’s my world, and yours. If Natalie Portman’s character is meant to represent the everywoman/man in this story, I guess we’re soon about to find out whether our fellow citizens are brave enough to pull that level and say… enough.

Out of all the masked men in all the enviable lairs, V is by far my favorite. He has a home filled with antiques, keeps Cat Power queued on the jukebox, watches classic films, and has fun with language. How many words start with V? Let’s ponder it while drinking this Vesperado cocktail.

Vesperado

2 oz Añejo Tequila

1/2 oz Cocchi Americano

3 dashes Orange Bitters

Blood orange slice (dried)

Stir together tequila, Cocchi Americano, and bitters in a shaker with ice. Chill, then strain into a glass filled with a large ice cube. Garnish with dried blood orange slice (or orange twist).

If this movie feels difficult or uncomfortable to watch right now, know that you’re not alone. I almost didn’t cover it because I mostly watch movies to escape; not to confirm my fears that humans are basically terrible. And yet, I absolutely think V for Vendetta is an important film for our times. It’s a reminder that we can stop this now, before things get out of hand. Before our fellow citizens lose more of their rights (or their lives), before our institutions blow up, and before democracy becomes a forgotten part of history. On the third of November, I think I know the word V would use to inspire our revolution: VOTE.