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Category Archives: Action/Adventure/Heist

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!

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!

Bottle Rocket

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Image credit: Bottle Rocket, 1996

Longtime readers of Cinema Sips know I’m a sucker for any movie with a pool, and now that the weather’s warming up, I’m ready for an onscreen dip. Bottle Rocket (Disc/Download) manages to make a crappy motel pool look like Shangri-La, and although the comedic heist script is an absolute joy, let’s be clear—I’m mainly here for the swimming.

Despite the fact that Bottle Rocket was never a commercial success, critics nevertheless came away from initial screenings with the sense that this was the start of something major. The symmetry; the Mark Mothersbaugh soundtrack; the deadpan comedy style; the saturated colors—all hallmarks of Wes Anderson’s unique body of work. This film is the genesis, a place where we can come to view tiny glimpses of his brilliance, feeling like we just entered a world that’s somehow better than our own (even though it’s just a nondescript, forgettable Texas town). Small is the word I keep coming back to—small budget, small-time crooks, small in scope; however, the movie leaves me with BIG feelings. The romance between Luke Wilson’s character Anthony and the motel maid Inez is so beautiful, it’s enough to make even the worst skeptic believe in love at first sight. That pure, simple moment when you realize the person you love feels the same way in return—like a bottle rocket exploding in your heart.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Wes Anderson movie without a zany cast of secondary characters, one of which is simply called Applejack. It’s a tiny role, but pivotal to the final heist of the film. And lucky for me, cocktail-inspiring as well.  While watching Bottle Rocket, cool off with an Applejack Collins.

Applejack Collins

1 ½ oz Applejack Brandy

½ oz Orgeat

½ oz Lemon Juice

3 oz Club Soda

Combine Applejack, orgeat, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice.  Top with club soda and stir gently to combine.

I’ve talked a lot about how this was the start of Wes Anderson’s career, but let’s not forget brothers Owen and Luke Wilson, who also broke into Hollywood with Bottle Rocket. With their Texas drawls, dented noses, and good hair, the Wilsons were practically destined for stardom. Lucky for us, this weird little ‘90s indie film had enough fuel to propel them up there.  Cheers!

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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Image Credit: The Man from U.N.C.L.E., 2015

I can think of a lot of films deserving of a sequel that never came, but at the top of my list is Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Disc/Download). A cult-classic within the romance genre community, this 1960s-inspired spy thriller was born to have as many offshoots as Mission: Impossible or Danny Ocean’s crew. Why didn’t it? Because someone in Hollywood clearly hates me.

But seriously, what was the problem??? If I had to guess, I’d say that people just weren’t ready for such a cinematic love letter to the sixties. After all, most of the classic television shows that spawned successful movie franchises have all been updated for modern times. What’s great about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is that it recreates the era in which the original series took place, probably to a great deal of time and expense on the part of the studio. However, you simply can’t deny the appeal and beauty of this aesthetic. The Pierre Cardin-inspired dresses modeled by Alicia Vikander are my dream wardrobe, and if you’ve never seen Henry Cavill in an expertly tailored vintage suit… well, let’s just say you better keep an ice bucket on hand. And speaking of hot, can we talk about that dance between Vikander and Armie Hammer? She’s a cheeky British operative in disguise, he’s a no-nonsense KGB agent, but put them in a luxury hotel room with pajamas and a song from Dirty Dancing, and the result is a scene that’s forever etched into my brain. In my house, we don’t call this flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E. We call it, “Sexy Pajama Slap-Dance Movie”.

Because the action largely takes place around Rome, I decided to make a cocktail that’s bright, sparkling, and reflective of the Eternal City. While watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I recommend drinking a classic Negroni Spagliato.

Negroni Spagliato

1 oz Campari

1 oz Sweet Vermouth

3 oz Prosecco

Orange Slice (Garnish)

Build drink over a large ice cube, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Although we’ll probably never get a direct sequel to this film, I’m happy to report that Guy Ritchie managed to sneak some nods to U.N.C.L.E. in his latest release, The Gentlemen. It features a badass female mechanic, a cast of hot men, classic tailoring, a well-curated soundtrack, and even a Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie poster hanging in the background! This might be Ritchie’s way of closing the book on U.N.C.L.E., but I’m still clinging to any sign that we’ve not yet reached the end of the road for Solo and Kuryakin. After all, we still have Nazis to fight, and hot men still gotta work. 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.

The Karate Kid

Image credit: The Karate Kid, 1984

Before going down the Cobra Kai rabbit hole (if you don’t know what this is, GET A NETFLIX SUBSCRIPTION NOW!!!), I decided to revisit the film that inspired the world’s new favorite soap-opera-for-the-middle-aged. Plus, with Halloween right around the corner, it seemed like a good time to examine the genesis of my childhood nightmares—those motorcycle-riding blonde villains in their skeleton costumes and terrifying makeup. The Karate Kid (Disc/Download) is a nostalgia trip to the 1980s, but you know what? I’m pretty excited to go back.

First things first—Ralph Macchio was and still is a BABE. Pre-teen Liz was all about sweet Daniel and his luscious olive skin, and don’t even get me started on that dopey shower curtain costume. So creative! My husband loves to champion his theory that Daniel LaRusso is the real bully of The Karate Kid, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Daniel does not dress up like a creepy skeleton and beat a kid within an inch of his life. He does not sweep the leg. All he does is fall for the wrong single girl (sorry Johnny, you had your chance), and douse his tormentor with water. However, the fact that my husband and I have such differing opinions on this proves that the film has very layered, nuanced characters. This is not just a group of one-note villains and heroes. They all have complex backstories, none more so than that of Daniel’s sensei, Mr. Miyagi. As a child watching this movie, Miyagi’s tragic past didn’t even register to me. But as an adult, my heart breaks for the war hero whose wife and child perished in a Japanese Internment Camp. The fact that this role was played by comic Pat Morita with such dignity and honesty (for he, too, had spent time in the camps), makes it all the more powerful. This is not just a movie about martial arts; this is a movie about finding the hero within oneself, even when the world may have turned its back on you.

My drink this week is an ode to Mr. Miyagi’s low-key, retro style. I can just imagine him sipping a tiki beverage in his Japanese garden, watching Daniel wax-on/wax-off. While watching The Karate Kid, I recommend enjoying this Hai Karate cocktail.

Hai Karate

2 oz Aged Rum

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Pineapple Juice

1 tsp Maple Syrup

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Dried citrus/Luxardo Cherry for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then pour (unstrained) into a glass. Garnish with citrus slices and Luxardo Cherry.

One of the things I love so much about the television show Cobra Kai is that it goes out of its way to pay tribute to the fan-favorite aspects of The Karate Kid. Cutting in scenes from the movie, they weave a story that feels contemporary and classic all at once. We feel the joy of an ‘80s muscle car blasting power ballads, the thrill of finding familiar faces on our screens once again, and above all, we feel the loss of Mr. Miyagi. Daniel tries to spread his teachings of balance and peace, and somehow it feels like the big battle of our modern times. Can the Miyagi-do principles of tolerance and inclusivity triumph once again, or will the bullies win this round? I guess we’ll find out in about forty-four more days. Cheers!

To Catch a Thief

To Catch a Thief

Image credit: To Catch a Thief, 1955

I’ve taken a lot of cinema travels this summer, so it’s fitting that I end the season with one last trip to the French Riviera. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic To Catch a Thief (Disc/Download) will make you feel like you’re sipping champagne at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, before meeting your lover for a sexy rendezvous. This week, say bonjour to style, suspense, and sun-drenched 1950s beaches.

This is one of those movies I could watch with the sound off and still feel like I got my money’s worth. To see Grace Kelly slink across the screen in her gorgeous Edith Head costumes is such a treat, but then Hitch had to go and add the Mediterranean Sea. And champagne. And Cary Grant in a lovely French farmhouse. Is he TRYING to make me swoon? If you like the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, you’ll really enjoy this plot involving a retired cat burglar trying to clear his name after a string of “copycat” jewel thefts. Cary latches on to Grace Kelly’s jet set heiress, using her to draw the real thief out. But somewhere between sunbathing, picnicking, and enjoying the fireworks from a luxury hotel room, she falls for him. Can Cary catch the thief? Can Grace catch Cary? Can the world stop catching coronavirus so I can go to the French Riviera for real???

As previously mentioned, this is a champagne-heavy movie. For my cocktail pairing this week, I’m adapting the classic French Riviera cocktail into something a little more bubbly, and a little more American, in a nod to Grace Kelly’s roots. While watching To Catch a Thief, I recommend drinking this Copycat cocktail.

Copycat

1 ½ oz Bourbon

½ oz Rum

1 tsp Apricot Jam

½ oz Lemon Juice

1 oz Honey Syrup (2 to 1 ratio, honey to water, boiled then cooled)

3 oz Champagne

Combine Bourbon, rum, apricot jam, lemon juice, and honey syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Top with champagne, and stir gently.

Copycat

This spritz cocktail is perfect for lounging near the beach or pool in your couture, as I know we’re all doing during quarantine. Maybe just me? No matter your plans this Labor Day, I hope you get to take a day off, and I hope that day off involves a fabulous movie or two. Cheers!

Jurassic Park

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Jurassic Park

Image Credit: Jurassic Park, 1993

Admit it- the second you saw Jurassic Park (Disc/Download) had hit Netflix this summer, you cheered a little bit inside. I’m typically not one for big blockbusters, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for that old T-Rex with the tiny hands. I remember seeing this in the theater when it came out in 1993, and during the parts where my eyes were actually open, I knew I was witnessing something incredible. Twenty-seven years later, it still gives me chills.

There have been a lot of sequels, but in my opinion, Steven Spielberg’s original is the undisputed best. Special effects have come a long way since this was made, becoming slicker and smoother as the years passed, but damn if these dinos don’t look insanely real, even by today’s high standards. Watching this as an adult, I can appreciate the true awe these characters must have felt, in a way I couldn’t before. Imagine, you’re an archeologist who’s spent your whole life trying to piece together dinosaur bones, then some crazy nut in a Panama hat tells you he’s extracted dino DNA from fossilized mosquitoes, hatched some new creatures in the lab, and you can actually go see them in a Central American amusement park. This would be like someone telling me there’s a classic Hollywood theme park and for the price of admission I get to ride around in a vintage Corvair and shake hands with the cloned, VERY REAL versions of Doris Day and Cary Grant. What wouldn’t I give for a chance like that? Of course, Doris doesn’t have the claws of a raptor or the natural instinct to tear the flesh from my bones, but nevertheless, we don’t really know what she’s like without her morning coffee. Things could get ugly.

With any jungle-set film, I enjoy a good tiki beverage. Of course I had to incorporate those dino eggs somehow, plus the whole gory death motif. While you take a trip to Isla Nublar, I recommend drinking this Isla de Sangre cocktail!

Isla de Sangre

1 1/2 oz Black Rum

1/2 oz Beet Juice

1/4 oz Angostura Bitters

1/2 oz Lime Juice

1/2 oz Orgeat Syrup

1 Egg White

Dried Blood Orange garnish

Combine rum, beet juice, bitters, lime juice, orgeat syrup, and egg white in a shaker. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds, then add ice. Shake again for another 15 seconds, and strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a dried blood orange slice.

Isla Sangre

I want to give a special shout-out to sexy mathematician Jeff Goldblum, in his finest performance to date. It takes a special kind of person to show up to the jungle in a black leather jacket, but he’s got the confidence to pull it off. Me? I like the looks of that Panama hat. Cheers!

 

Jeeps

Movie jeeps, spotted in the Bastrop, TX Dinosaur Park

 

TRex

Lucky to be alive.

Twister

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twister

Image credit: Twister, 1996

Sometimes, you just want a big, dumb blockbuster where everybody’s crisis is far greater than your own. Enter the 1996 CGI-cow extravaganza, Twister (Disc/Download). Part romance, part thriller, part comedy (thanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman!), part domestic drama, this movie attempts to be all things to all people. Call it the great cinematic equalizer- no matter who you are, you can find something to like about this tornado disaster flick.

Here’s the thing: I love Helen Hunt. I love everything she’s ever done, and I don’t understand why we can’t have more Helen Hunt. Paired with Bill Paxton (RIP), she truly shines- even in unfortunate clothes from the Gap. In the midst of a half-hearted divorce, she and Paxton banter as well as Hepburn and Grant in The Philadelphia Story, immediately conveying to the audience that his new fiancé won’t make it to the end credits. As they bicker and flirt, these two scientists are also in a race to put a tracking device in a tornado, the ultimate goal being better data and modeling. Eventually the skies turn dark, the cows and pickup trucks start flying, and we’re left on the edge of our seats to see how close they can get without being sucked into the vortex.

As the movie progresses, the twisters get bigger and badder. The ultimate storm is an F5, something that’ll destroy everything in its path. Unless of course you tether yourself to a water pipe with a cheap leather belt- then you’re fine. The world will explode around you, fire and sharp objects will rain down, but your Gap khakis will remain wrinkle-free. While watching Twister, I recommend drinking this spicy F5 Margarita.

F5 Margarita

3 oz Habanero tequila (Infuse Reposado tequila with a few slices of habanero pepper for 1 hour, then strain).

1 oz Paula’s Texas Orange liqueur

1/2 oz Agave Syrup

1 1/2 oz Lime Juice

1 Tbsp Chili Powder

1 Tbsp Salt

Dried Lime garnish

Combine chili powder and salt on a small plate. Run the edge of a lime around the rim of your glass, then dip in the chili salt. Fill glass with ice, and set aside.  Fill a shaker with ice, habanero tequila, orange liqueur, agave, and lime juice. Shake until chilled, then strain into prepared glass. Garnish with a dried lime slice.

Twister is a great summer blockbuster that still holds up, even though some of the science and technology seem pretty antiquated by now. What allows this film to stand the test of time is the fantastic acting and a script that actually puts  human relationships first, rather than special effects.  Flying cows are great and all, but what I really want is a happy ending for these two crazy exes. Cheers!

A Life Less Ordinary

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A Life Less Ordinary

Image Credit: A Life Less Ordinary, 1997

Exactly as advertised by the title, forgotten ’90s romantic thriller A Life Less Ordinary (Disc/Download) is truly anything but ordinary. If you like your love stories with a dash of kidnapping, attempted murder, black comedy, and a pair of cursing angels, then this one’s for you.

Directed by Danny Boyle and starring Ewan McGregor, this film initially fell victim to high expectations. People went in hoping for another Trainspotting, and came out wondering what the hell just happened. Yes, the soundtrack is as superb as their previous film together, but that’s where the similarities end. In A Life Less Ordinary, Ewan McGregor plays a janitor and aspiring romance novelist (!!!) who falls on hard times. He takes his boss’s daughter hostage (Cameron Diaz), not realizing she’s a feisty badass who wants to piss off Daddy. The two scheme to get the ransom money, while falling deeper in lust with one another. Meanwhile, they get some help from a couple of potty-mouthed angels (Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo) who are on a mission to unite two humans in true love. The plot meanders at times, but McGregor and Diaz have such great chemistry that you keep on rooting for them, especially when he serenades her at a karaoke bar. I cannot resist Ewan McGregor singing. Ever. Also, given the stir that Stanley Tucci’s arms have created during quarantine, I feel it’s important to mention his shirtless scenes in this film. Do with that information what you will.

When we first meet Cameron Diaz’s character Celine, she’s playing a game of William Tell with her butler, a gun, and an apple. Let’s honor her marksmanship with this cocktail that combines apple cider, fiery tequila, and scotch- the Poco Loco.

Poco Loco

1 oz Habenero-infused Añejo tequila (Infuse tequila with a few slices of habanero pepper for 1 hr, then strain)

½ oz Scotch

1 ½ oz Apple Cider

½ oz Lime Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

Dried Apple Slice for garnish

Pour all liquid ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with apple slice.

Poco Loco

There are a lot of strange elements to this film, but A Life Less Ordinary is still one of my favorite romances. It posits the theory that love isn’t just two people randomly meeting and making it work, but a supernatural occurrence as well. Call it destiny, call it divine intervention, call it the work of two fallen angels who just want to get off this garbage dump we call Earth, but Perfect Love is out there, even if it looks a little crazy sometimes. Cheers!