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Category Archives: Comedies

To Die For

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To Die For

Image credit: To Die For, 1995.

This story is the type of salacious true-crime stuff I live for. Local weather girl hires her sixteen-year-old lover to kill her husband so she can pursue a career in television? It’s a dark, twisted soap opera, and I am HERE FOR IT. To Die For (Disc/Download) is a great example of a ‘90s indie film with a pedigreed cast, many of whom would go on to win multiple Oscars and accolades in the coming decades. But let’s be clear—it’s still a soap opera.

To Die For came back on my radar after the recent death of screenwriter Buck Henry. He wrote one of my all-time favorite scripts, The Graduate, but this later film is equally brilliant. It was a mockumentary before every TV sitcom adopted the format, and through these faux interviews we see a Hard Copy-style tale of a power-hungry woman who would stop at nothing to achieve her dreams. Is it weird that I feel a strong kinship with Nicole Kidman’s Suzanne Stone? I too am a fan of the alliterated name, and I’ve chosen a career that’s next to impossible to break into. I haven’t gone to the lengths of prostituting myself, but anyone who’s ever done a Twitter Pitch event for writers knows it’s not all that different. You feel pretty cheap and debased by the end. I wouldn’t murder for my art, but I would rock a Donna Karan knock-off suit and French twist at my next writer’s conference.

The thing that really sells me on this movie is the torrid affair Nicole Kidman has with the much younger Joaquin Phoenix. And we’re talking yooooooung Joaquin, with a mullet and sad little stutter. It’s an icky relationship for sure, but I can’t help but feel for this horny kid who just wants attention from a beautiful woman. And Nicole is stuck in a lame marriage to Matt Dillon—need I say more? While watching To Die For, I recommend drinking this Forbidden Fruit cocktail:

Forbidden Fruit

1 ½ oz Frankly® Apple/Ginger vodka

½ oz Hofland Meesterbitter liqueur

½ oz Lemon Juice

4 oz Ginger Beer

Apple garnish

Combine vodka, liqueur, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with ginger beer, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with an apple slice.

Forbidden Fruit

Finally, I’d like to give props to adorable Pomeranian Walter (after Walter Cronkite), who is the unsung hero of To Die For. I genuinely feel his distaste for his mom’s actions, but also his narcissistic need to look cute in his little outfits. Out of anyone in this film, Walter is the only character deserving of a happy ending. Cheers!

Kate & Leopold

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Kate and Leopold

Image credit: Kate & Leopold, 2001

I’ve discussed how great hair can turn a movie into a hit (see Sliding Doors) but now it’s time to talk about when bad hair does the opposite. There is no obvious reason why Kate & Leopold (Disc/Download) shouldn’t be a major success. It’s got all the elements of a rom-com classic: charming Hugh Jackman, interesting time travel premise, sparkling script, Breakfast at Tiffany’s nod, and even the quintessential dinner-on-a-NYC-rooftop scene (with twinkle lights and a violin for god’s sake!). If I had to sum up its one failure, it would be this: Meg Ryan’s hair.

Rom-Com audiences know Meg as the adorable sweetheart Tom Hanks just can’t get enough of. She’s got curly, wavy, soft hair in all of her films. Until… Kate. Kate has flat-ironed hair styled at a gravity-defying angle, like a mop or one of those dogs that looks like a mop. There is no excuse for this hair. I maintain that if she’d had soft waves, this movie about a nineteenth-century duke who time travels to modern-day New York and falls for a brash ad exec, would have been a massive hit. Hugh Jackman is absolutely irresistible as the duke, and even Breckin Meyer turns in a fun performance as Kate’s brother. But when Meg walks in with that coif and an unflattering leather button-up vest, I just cringe. You can’t have chemistry with that situation.

One of my favorite scenes is when Leopold makes Kate breakfast in the morning, bringing her perfectly prepared toast (because he fixed the broken toaster himself!!!) covered in mascarpone and strawberries. And he does the dishes.

Swoon. Major Swoon.

While watching Kate & Leopold, toast this ultimate romance hero with a Strawberry Gimlet.

Strawberry Gimlet

2 oz Strawberry Vodka (I use Frankly®)

½ oz simple syrup

½ oz lime juice

Lime Twist/Fresh Strawberry for garnish

Combine vodka, simple syrup, and lime juice over ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with lime and strawberry.

Strawberry Gimlet

If you can get past the hair, this is an utterly charming romance. Hugh Jackman could have played this campy, but instead his duke is funny, intelligent, and principled. I guess sometimes you have to go back in time to find a hero deserving of a modern woman. 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!

Irma la Douce

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Irma la Douce

Image credit: Irma la Douce, 1963

If you love the colorful costumes and sets of classic Hollywood musicals, but can’t abide characters spontaneously bursting into song, then Irma la Douce (Disc/Download) is your movie.  Starring Jack Lemmon as a police officer-turned-pimp and Shirley MacLaine as his prostitute love, this sixties gem is a Billy Wilder film on steroids.  Big visuals, big acting, big run-time—it’s a massive commitment.  But once you give into the world of the Hotel Casanova, you’re in for a real cinematic treat.

When we first see Irma, slouching against a doorway with that little dog under her arm, you instantly know—this is a woman who has seen it all, and just doesn’t give a sh*t anymore.  She views her profession for what it is (a job), and would never allow herself to be swept away by a sappy romance. Even when she “falls” for down-on-his-luck Nestor Patou, it’s with an eye-roll and a shrug.  I see glimpses of this character in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fabulous work on HBO’s The Deuce, and at times Irma seems almost feminist in her attitudes.  She may have a boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop working.  And thus, her boyfriend has to come up with an asinine scheme, pretending to be an English lord, wearing a silly disguise, working multiple jobs so he can afford to pay  for her time, all so she doesn’t sleep with other men.  This relationship seems doomed from the start, but with a sparkling script by Wilder and winning performances by Apartment co-stars Lemmon and MacLaine, somehow it just works.

Included within the elaborate sets built for this film is a charming bar Chez Moustache, where the pimps come for their union meetings and working gals pop in for a pastis between clients.  You could certainly join them in a straight shot of this herbal spirit diluted with a little water, but I prefer mine in a cocktail.  While watching Irma la Douce, I recommend drinking this Cocktail X.

Cocktail X

1 ½ oz Calvados apple brandy

1 oz Cointreau

½ oz Pastis

1 ½  oz Pineapple Juice

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

Cocktail X

Yes, this film is long. Yes, it’s absurd.  But it’s fun to see the intersection of classic MGM musical and 1960s visual style.  There’s teased hair, plastic heart sunglasses, and movie streets too beautiful to be real, but there is also a heartfelt message about the changing social attitudes within the time period Irma la Douce was made.  As wise Moustache says of the business of sex work, “Love is illegal – but not hate. That you can do anywhere, anytime, to anybody. But if you want a little warmth, a little tenderness, a shoulder to cry on, a smile to cuddle up with, you have to hide in dark corners, like a criminal.”  Leave it to a bartender to speak the truth. Cheers!

Pretty Woman

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Pretty Woman

Image Credit: Pretty Woman, 1990.

Let’s be clear on one thing- Pretty Woman (Disc/Download) is a FAIRY TALE.  Lest we forget, the characters in this film shout it from balconies, fire escapes, and pool patios.  I fully understand that sex workers cannot expect shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive, private jets to the opera, or men who look like Richard Gere.  But knowing this still doesn’t stop me from squealing with glee when Julia Roberts steps into the lobby of the RegeBevWilsh looking like a million bucks.  Sue me- I’m into fairy tales.

In this classic rom-com, lonely businessman Edward (Richard Gere) picks up plucky sex worker Vivian (Julia Roberts) on a rough stretch of Hollywood Blvd.  He needs someone to drive his Lotus, but can’t resist those long legs and winning smile.  They strike a business arrangement, $3,000 for one week together, but things get messy when feelings develop.   For me, the romance is secondary to the joy I feel watching Vivian transform from an insecure girl in cheap clothing to a woman in a tasteful blazer who finally believes in herself.  Romy and Michele said it best:  “I just get really happy when they finally let her shop.”

No offense to the Regent Beverly Wilshire, which I’m sure is a lovely establishment, but daaaaaamn those hotel sets leave a lot to be desired.  The fussy draperies, the magenta bedroom with steps leading up to the bed- yikes. Edward needs alcohol to charm Vivian, because the “plush digs” sure aren’t doing it.  He orders up some champagne and strawberries, which, depending on the quality of the champagne, would totally work on me.   While watching Pretty Woman, I recommend drinking a Sparkling Strawberry Limoncello cocktail.

Sparkling Strawberry Limoncello

1 1/2 oz Frankly Strawberry Vodka

1/2 oz Limoncello

1/2 oz Simple Syrup

1 oz Lemon Juice

3 oz Champagne

Fresh Strawberry for garnish

Combine Vodka, Limoncello, Simple Syrup, and Lemon juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe.  Top with champagne, and garnish with a strawberry slice.

Sure, there are some problematic moments in Pretty Woman (I’m actually slightly amazed Jason Alexander had any kind of career in comedy after this movie), but something I love about it is the idea that a woman is more than what she does for a living.  Whether she’s a sex worker or a department store clerk, she has hidden depths that might include a deep love of opera, a talent for understanding human needs and emotions, or a knack for driving race cars. You just never know until you take the time to find out.  Cheers!

Swingers

swingers

Image credit: Swingers, 1996

As a teenager, I must have watched Swingers (Disc/Download) at least a hundred times.  The poster graced the walls of dorm rooms and crappy apartments, and I even made my dad take swing dance lessons with me.  Ordering my first drink in a bar went something like this, “One of the Glen’s, please.  Any Glen.” I’ll admit, the phrase ‘beautiful babies’ makes me cringe in a way it didn’t used to, but dang if the rest of this movie doesn’t still hold up.

Written by and starring Jon Favreau, this was the indie film darling of the 1990s.  Made on a shoestring budget, Swingers launched the careers of Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, and director Doug Liman, and made big-band music and speakeasy bars cool again.  As an adolescent girl, I viewed the film as valuable insight into the male psyche.  But how to meet a Michael in a world full of Trents?  How to make sure the guy who just asked for your number doesn’t tear it up on the way out the door?  These are still questions I’m not sure I have the answer to, other than to say relationships are a crap shoot, and sometimes, even when it might feel like you’re just the guy behind the guy behind the guy, you can get lucky and the right person will come along and see you.

There is so much alcohol in this film, from martini’s to Budweiser and back again, but the best way to celebrate a “money” guy like Michael is by drinking my preferred Glen, Glenlivet.  Simple, on the rocks, with a pancake chaser after midnight.

Scotch

A quote I always come back to when I’m feeling blue about not being where I thought I’d be by now in my career is Ron Livingston’s classic line, “You don’t look at the things you have, you only look at the stuff that you don’t have.”  I may not have that lucrative book deal or the master bathroom of my dreams, but I’ve got a guy who’ll always call me back, and a blog that brings me joy.  And that’s pretty money if you ask me. Cheers!

500 Days of Summer

500 days of summer

Image credit: 500 Days of Summer, 2009.

I write to you today from the 136th day of summer.  The calendar may say September, the flannel pumpkins may have hit Target shelves, but here in good ole’ Austin we’re still baking in the heat.  You see, summer and I have a bad relationship. Kind of like the bad relationship in this week’s film, 500 Days of Summer (Disc/Download).  Eventually, you just hope someone will put us all out of our misery.

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom, and Zooey Deschanel as Summer, the movie relies heavily on colorful visuals, choreographed dance numbers, and omniscient narration to tell the story of a couple’s failed relationship.  She says she’s not looking for anything serious, he doesn’t believe her, they date anyway, and he’s shocked when she dumps him.  Then they kinda-sorta flirt again, before she’s suddenly married to another guy.  Truthfully, Summer is…. awful.  The woman likes Ringo Starr, for god’s sake.  And with her high-waisted trousers, a-line dresses, and cute hair bows, her style is annoyingly perfect.  So why do I watch this movie?  A) because it’s an Anthropologie catalog come to life, and B) Tom.  The man wears sweater vests without irony, he can turn an IKEA trip into the cutest date ever, and don’t even get me started on his drunken karaoke skills.  He can do so much better than Summer.

You must understand– this is a very basic girl masquerading as someone unique. I imagine Summer would take a summer cocktail like the Aperol Spritz and make it in a new way, just because she could.  Is it better? No.  But using Campari instead of Aperol would make her seem cool and different.  While watching this bitter take on modern love, I recommend drinking a Campari Spritz.

Campari Spritz

2 oz Campari

3 oz Champagne

Club Soda

Orange Wedge

Fill a glass with ice.  Top with Campari and champagne, then fill glass the rest of the way with club soda.  Stir gently to combine, and garnish with an orange wedge.

campari spritz

I come down hard on Summer (and summer), but it’s only because I don’t like being told how to feel about a character, or a season.  I don’t want to be forced to like a girl just because she’s a snappy dresser, and I don’t want to be forced to like summer just because the rest of the country has a pleasant climate for 4-5 months.  Let me have grey, rainy days, and strong, authentic female characters; summer is meant for someone else.  Cheers!