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Category Archives: Comedies

National Lampoon’s European Vacation

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national lampoons european vacation

Image credit: National Lampoon’s European Vacation, 1985

Sure, we all had fun on that trip to Walley World. And Christie Brinkley will be missed. But when the Griswold’s go to Europe, hilarity ensues. There have been a lot of sequels made to National Lampoon’s Vacation, but my favorite will always been this week’s Cinema Sips pick, National Lampoon’s European Vacation (DVD/Download). For anybody who traveled to Europe before the internet or TripAdvisor, you’ll get it.

With a new Audrey and Russ, but same old Clark and Ellen, the Griswolds embark on a free gameshow trip across the European continent. They find tiny, bathroom-less hotel rooms in London, rude waiters and hookers in Paris, and car thieves in Rome. Plus- Eric Idle on a bicycle. Everywhere. Directed by Amy Heckerling, with a script written by John Hughes, this is 80’s slapstick raunchy comedy at its finest. This movie isn’t trying to be anything more than a satire of international travel, and in that respect it succeeds beautifully. Even now, in the age of websites and online reviews, it’s still possible for a boorish, entitled American to be stuck in a tiny European closet of a hotel room, wondering where they put the real shower (not the little phone booth in the corner with the trickling water feature). And by entitled American, I mean myself of course.

If you’re attempting to travel around the world by alcohol, the easiest solution is beer. All of Europe seems to have a firm handle on good beer, so instead of a cocktail this week, I’ll be drinking a European Beer Flight*.

 

European Beer

*(note, Trader Joe’s had ZERO British beers so I had to improvise….)

I think the reason these Vacation movies have always worked so well, whether it’s the 1st or 4th, is that despite the dumb jokes and sight gags, there’s a little bit of truth in all of them. I may not have backed my car into Stonehenge, but I have nearly collapsed on museum steps from sheer tourist exhaustion. And I KNOW I’ve eaten a microwaved frozen dinner at a Roman café. It paired really well with Campari. Cheers!

High Fidelity

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High Fidelity

Image credit: High Fidelity, 2000

True story- the one and only time I’ve ever been carded and turned away from a movie was High Fidelity (DVD/Download) in April 2000. I was 16 years old, a recent transplant to Central Pennsylvania, and stunned to find myself smack dab in the Bible Belt. For months afterward, I waited impatiently to see what erotic, taboo tales awaited me in the R-rated and undoubtedly-risque High Fidelity.  Imagine my surprise and outrage that not only was there nothing “R” about it, but also that I was unnecessarily delayed from seeing what would become one of my all-time favorite films.

My Top 5 lists on Cinema Sips are a direct homage to this comedic gem, so in lieu of a proper plot description I think it’s more appropriate to list off my Top 5 High Fidelity Scenes:

  1. When John Cusack plays the new Beta Band LP in his niche Chicago record shop, causing all the customers fall under its spell. Perfect music moment.
  1. Lisa Bonet sings “Baby I Love Your Way” by Peter Frampton. I too, always hated that song. And now I too, kinda like it.
  1. Jack Black berating a customer for wanting to buy a copy of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”. In answer to his subquestion, it is definitely better to burn out than to fade away.
  1. The making of a Top 5 List of songs about death. This is absolutely a conversation I want to be a part of.
  1. Barry Jive and the Uptown Five singing “Let’s Get it On”. And just like that, Jack Black the Movie Star was born.

Although the Nick Hornby novel this film was based on is set in London, I love the decision to set the movie adaptation in Chicago. The city itself becomes like another character in the film, so to that end we should definitely celebrate this midwestern metropolis with its namesake drink. While watching High Fidelity, I recommend drinking a classic Chicago Cocktail.

Chicago Cocktail

2 oz Brandy

Dash of Triple Sec

Dash of Bitters

1 oz Champagne

Stir Brandy, Triple Sec, and Bitters together in a shaker filled with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe, and top with champagne.

If you happen to find yourself celebrating Record Store Day later this month, don’t be too put off by the employees at your local vinyl shop. They actually do know a lot about music, so let them make suggestions. They may not be able to give relationship advice, but if you’re looking to find a band that picks up where Echo and the Bunnymen left off, they’ve got your back. Cheers!

Trainspotting

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Trainspotting

Image credit: Trainspotting, 1996

As a film studies student in college, I used to have an incredibly cliche poster of the opening quote from this week’s film Trainspotting (DVD/Download) tacked up to my wall. You know the quote, “Choose life, choose a job, choose a career…” – almost as a warning of the kind of life I didn’t want. Well, let me tell you, enough nights worrying about when your next paycheck was coming, hungover mornings, and cheap microwaved food, and suddenly the stuff on that poster doesn’t seem so bad. I’ll take low cholesterol and dental insurance over gross apartments and toxic relationships any day of the week. Heck yes.

Trainspotting is a rebellious classic that spoke to an entire generation of young people upon its release. It’s selfish people wreaking havoc on the lives around them, and not giving a damn. It’s junkies in a vicious cycle of getting on/getting off heroin, so frequently that you wonder what “normal” even is for them. It’s friends betraying friends, wild nights in clubs, Iggy Pop music, and drug deals gone bad.  Danny Boyle’s wild ride through the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh is deliciously fun to watch. I feel cooler just being in the audience.

As a young skinny heroin addict stumbling toward redemption , this was the movie that put Ewan McGregor on the map. He’s not a bad guy, just….. an addict. He needs help; maybe an antibiotic (or five). So while watching Trainspotting, I recommend drinking a Penicillin cocktail.

Penicillin

2 oz blended Scotch whiskey

¾ oz lemon juice

¾ oz honey syrup (1 part water + 1 part honey, boiled)

¼ oz smoky Islay single malt scotch

Fresh ginger

Muddle ginger at the bottom of a shaker and add blended Scotch, lemon juice, and honey syrup. Add ice cubes, and shake well to chill. Strain into a glass with a large ice cube, and float the single-malt scotch on top.

If you get the chance, I highly recommend seeing this film’s sequel T2 to find out what has become of these iconic characters.  In my opinion, this is one of the best sequels ever made, and such a perfect grace note to original. Thinking back to that poster, I may have chosen DIY and wondering who the f**k I am on a Sunday morning, but still, I chose life. And it’s a damn good one. Cheers!

Away We Go

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Film Title: Away We Go

Image credit: Away We Go, 2009

Sometimes travel has nothing to do with business or pleasure, and everything to do with searching. Searching for a person, or a place, or maybe just a feeling. In Away We Go (DVD/Download), two soon-to-be parents embark on a quest across North America to find perhaps the most important thing of all- Home. As it turns out, this is one of the hardest destinations to find.

Directed by Sam Mendes and starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, Away We Go is full of both earnestness and humor. I see myself and so many people I know in these characters, two well-meaning people forced to grapple with this idea of adulthood and finding one’s place in the world. Pregnancy is a catalyst, but don’t mistake this for a She’s Having a Baby type of discourse on parenthood. Instead this is a film about two unique individuals who finally have to grow up and figure out the kind of future they want. Visiting friends and relatives in Phoenix, Madison, Montreal, and Miami, they search for an anchor to tie their boat to. Beautifully shot, with a soundtrack by Alexi Murdoch, this film truly feels like a journey.

Throughout Away We Go, John Krasinski waxes poetic on the allure of the Mighty Mississippi, and wanting to give his child a “Huck Finn” kind of upbringing. It’s a romantic notion, and certainly refreshing in the age of smartphones and videogames. When we finally see the Mississippi in this film, it feels utterly majestic. While watching Away We Go, I recommend drinking a Mighty MissisSip.

Mighty MissisSip

1 ½ oz Light Rum

1 oz Whiskey

3 oz fresh lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

Lemon Twist

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker full of ice, and shake until combined. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.

I was in the very fortunate position to decide where I wanted to build a future before I got tied down with responsibility. I knew I didn’t like where I was living at the time (sorry DC), so I considered all the places I’d ever been that had felt like home. Austin won out, and not for a clear-cut reason. Nobody can explain why a certain place feels like home, it just….does. And as much as we want to tell ourselves that home is a person, I’m not sure I believe that. There’s a unique sense of purpose and hope that one feels when they look around and realize they’ve discovered the place where they belong. Like the characters in Away We Go, I’m grateful to have found mine. Cheers!

Up in the Air

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up-in-the-air

Image credit: Up in the Air, 2009.

When summer break seems too far away, and spring break is oh so short (and expensive), sometimes you have to turn to the movies.  To sooth my wanderlust, all month long on Cinema Sips I’ll be enjoying some travel-focused films. Kicking things off is the George Clooney tragicomedy Up in the Air (DVD/Download). As an HR exec who spends 322 days on the road, he knows a thing or two about air travel. Let’s prepare for takeoff.

Up in the Air does a great job of showing the perks and pitfalls of business travel, from slow moving senior citizens setting off the airport metal detectors, to quiet, perhaps lonely drinks in a hotel bar. Only Clooney could pull off a character whose main purpose is to be the ultimate jerk. He flies in to Omaha or Tulsa or any other nondescript white-collar business town to lay off employees, but he’s just so charming that they almost thank him for the pleasure. When a young whippersnapper played by Anna Kendrick waltzes in to extol the virtues of firing by videoconference, he has to prove his worth on the road. With an “empty bag” devoid of commitment, attachment, or anything of meaning, he’s free to rack up airline miles and casual sex. But is that really living?

I used to dread airline cocktails, until the magical Carry-on Cocktail Kit was released by the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Although they have many varieties, I like to stay loyal to the Gin & Tonic kit. It truly does make flying much more civilized, with a linen napkin and tiny metal jigger. Sure, I get funny looks when I VERY SPECIFICALLY order a can of club soda, a separate glass of ice, a tiny bottle of gin, and a lime, but I figure my annoying order for the flight attendant is revenge for the miniscule bag of peanuts I’m about to be given. Nobody likes peanuts. While watching Up in the Air, I recommend drinking a Carry On Gin & Tonic.

Carry On Gin & Tonic

1 can club soda

1 mini bottle gin

1/2 oz tonic syrup (from Carry On Cocktail Kit)

Wedge of lime

Glass of ice

Pour gin and tonic syrup over ice, then top with club soda. Stir gently to combine, and squeeze/drop the lime in.

carry-on-cocktail-kit

Honestly, I am extremely jealous of anyone who gets to travel for business. Your company sends you on a free trip, puts you up in a hotel where you don’t have to make your own bed or do your own dishes, you get to eat out every night, AND you can put your accumulated frequent flier miles into your own personal account? All without spending a dime of your own money? What’s not to love? Sure, there are lonely nights on the road, and missing your family, but it’s a sacrifice I’d be willing to make for all those miles. Cheers!

Blast From the Past

blast-from-the-past

Image credit: Blast From the Past, 1999

Seeing puffy, let-himself-go Brendan Fraser on the most recent season of The Affair has reminded me how much I missed this 90’s beefcake. One of my favorite films in the Fraser canon is this week’s Cinema Sips pick, Blast From the Past (DVD/Download). As a man who’s been raised in an atomic fallout shelter, Fraser pulls off the ludicrous script with so much charm, you almost forget the fact that he has virtually no chemistry with Alicia Silverstone, the Eve to his Adam. It’s just fun to watch him get excited about color TV.

In reality, I’ve always liked the idea of bomb shelters and panic rooms- a place where you can go when the world gets too scary and dangerous. I’d fill mine with romance novels and gin, and maybe some of those big tubs of cheesy puffs from Costco. And certainly, Blast From the Past puts a relatively great spin on the underground shelter concept. I mean, Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek raising their young son in a 1960’s-era bunker modeled after their own home? Complete with vintage modern furniture and cocktails? Sounds like heaven.

One of the best things about this movie is all the cocktails and classic barware. 1962 was a fine time to be alive, style and booze-wise, and this movie brings the nostalgia back in a big way. While watching Blast From the Past, I recommend drinking a Rob Roy.

Rob Roy

1 ½ oz Scotch

1 oz Sweet Vermouth

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Maraschino cherries

Add ingredients into a cocktail shaker and stir vigorously over ice. Strain into a chilled glass, and garnish with 2 maraschino cherries.

rob-roy

In my opinion, the present is very overrated. These days, reruns of I Love Lucy and vacuuming in a house dress and pearls doesn’t look too bad. Just leave the liquor down there and I’ll be all set  (I always was an “indoor girl”). Cheers!

 

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Image credit: Crazy, Stupid, Love,  2011

Now that the world has officially fallen in love with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land, I think it’s high time to revisit their first onscreen meet cute in Crazy, Stupid, Love (DVD/Download).  This was a fantastic ensemble film written by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, and fans of the TV show will see a lot of similarities. Humor, family dynamics, and soaring speeches about love abound, with a cast that just exudes greatness. Sound familiar?

Like Cher Horowitz, my main thrill in life is a makeover.  Thus I swoon when Ryan Gosling, playing a stylish, smooth talking womanizer, decides to treat Steve Carell’s dumpy divorcee dad to an image rehab. Eventually, they both realize that better clothes, manly cocktails, and bar hook-ups don’t result in a happier life. Without the women they love, they’re nothing. While Steve Carell goes through the biggest transition, it’s even more fun to watch Ryan Gosling meet his match in Emma Stone. Finally, a woman who doesn’t fall for his pick-up lines and fancy moves. Well, except for his big Dirty Dancing move. Can we blame her??

This is a perfect film to watch with a cocktail because so much of the dating action takes place in a bar.  As part of the bachelor-in-training process, Ryan Gosling impresses upon his student the importance of a manly cocktail, NOT drunk through a straw. And I’m happy to report that not only is Gosling funny, charming, and gorgeous in this, but he also makes a mean Old Fashioned. Be still my heart! While watching Crazy, Stupid, Love, I recommend drinking an Old Fashioned.

Old Fashioned

1 ½ oz Bourbon

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

1 sugar cube

Dash of plain water

Orange twist

Maraschino cherry

Place sugar cube in an old fashioned glass and saturate with bitters, adding a dash of plain water. Muddle until sugar is dissolved. Fill the glass with a large ice cube, and add bourbon. Garnish with an orange twist and maraschino cherry (optional).

old-fashioned

If you’re a sucker for romantic comedies like I am, this movie will remind you of why being in love is so great. It’s messy, and yeah at times crazy and stupid, but when a someone has the courage to go big or go home, it’s a pretty incredible thing to behold. Cheers!