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Category Archives: Dramas

The Last of Sheila

The Last of Sheila

Image credit: The Last of Sheila, 1973.

This week heralded a lot of firsts for me.  It was the first time I saw James Coburn in drag.  The first time I had impure thoughts about Ian McShane.  And the first time I saw this many pairs of white pants in one movie.  The Last of Sheila (Disc/Download) is a forgotten gem of the 1970s, and as a connoisseur of mid-century weird, I am here for it.

Equal parts Clue and The Cat’s Meow, The Last of Sheila is a Hollywood murder mystery set aboard a yacht in the south of France.  Based on the real-life parlor games staged by the film’s screenwriters Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (yes, THAT Anthony Perkins, and THAT Stephen Sondheim), the plot follows a group of Hollywood players who have all agreed to spend a week on James Coburn’s yacht one year after the mysterious death of his wife Sheila Green.  Once aboard, they’re told they’ll be playing the Sheila Green Gossip Game, competing to discover one another’s secrets.  Alas, the game turns deadly, and it’s a booze-filled struggle to make it out alive.  With a cast that includes Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Raquel Welch, and a sexxxxxy young Ian McShane, this film combines my three main interests in life: big hair, alcohol, and murder.  It’s weird, it’s wild, and it should absolutely be watched with a cocktail.

Leave it to James Mason—this man epitomizes classy drunk.  With the amount of bourbon he throws back, you’d think he’d be dead or passed out halfway through the movie.  But (spoiler) James hangs on till the bitter end, glass in hand, ready to solve this thing once and for all.  Let’s toast James with the boat’s signature alcohol brand in a Jim Beam® Smash.

Jim Beam® Smash

2 oz Jim Beam® Bourbon

2 lemon wedges

1 oz mint simple syrup (or muddled mint and simple syrup)

Club Soda

Fill a glass with ice and lemon wedges.  Pour bourbon and mint simple syrup into a shaker, and gently shake to combine. Pour into prepared glass, and top with club soda.  Stir gently.

Jim Beam Smash

Having fallen in love with Richard Benjamin in Goodbye, Columbus, it’s odd to see him in this creepier role.  His Freddie Mercury-mustache, tight white pants, and turtleneck are…. not a good look.  And don’t even get me started on the puppets.  Luckily there are a lot of other charming, beautiful people to balance out the sinister elements on this boat.  After all, you gotta have friends.  Cheers!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Image credit: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958.

This week, I’m all about bourbon.  And honestly, you can’t find a better bourbon movie than Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Disc/Download).  I’m pretty sure Paul Newman had a highball glass glued to his hand throughout the shoot, and lord was there ever a sexier drunk than 1950s-era Newman?  I think not. If you’re sweltering through an endless summer like Brick, better grab the ice bucket and the full bottle—you’ll need them to get through this steamy drama.

Looking at this film purely from an aesthetic point of view, I’m immediately hooked by the gorgeous southern plantation sets, Elizabeth Taylor’s sensual costumes, and the rugged beauty of Paul Newman.  The man looks to be carved from marble, and is of course one hell of an actor.  Then there’s Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie “the cat”, my role model for womanhood.  She’s tough, she’s conniving, and she’s not afraid to tell off bratty children.  Watching her smear ice cream over an annoying little girl’s head is SUCH a satisfying moment for me, and proof she’s the one with real Life in her.  It’s no wonder “Big Daddy” prefers her to his other daughter-in-law—you want the woman who will give you a cashmere robe for your birthday, not another loud-mouthed grandchild.

Although we’re supposed to feel anger or sympathy for Paul Newman’s alcoholic character Brick, I can’t help but be impressed.  This man knows how to hold his liquor!  Whether you’re sweating in a Mississippi plantation or just watching people onscreen do it, a cool drink will get you through the worst days of summer.  While watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I recommend drinking this Mississippi Punch.

Mississippi Punch

2 oz Cognac

1 oz Bourbon

1 oz Jamaican Rum

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz simple syrup

Orange wedge for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with an orange wedge.

Mississippi Punch.jpeg

Just like this cocktail, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is INTENSE.  By the end I’m exhausted from the emotional turmoil of these characters, and I wish someone would put them all out of their misery. But then Brick smirks and tells Maggie to “lock the door,” and I get that warm, satisfied feeling only a classic film and a great line can deliver.  Well… a great line and a lot of bourbon.  Cheers!

Little Voice

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little voice

Image Credit: Little Voice, 1998

For something called Little Voice (Disc/Download), this might be one of the loudest movies I’ve ever experienced.  From the shrill nagging of Brenda Blethyn, to Michael Caine’s tour-de-force meltdown, to the amazing musical mimicry by Jane Horrocks, my ears are still ringing.  Let’s take a quiet breath before we discuss a magical movie that fostered my love of the classic chanteuse.

Set in a crappy seaport town, Little Voice is part of the late ‘90s heyday of quirky British cinema. Films like Brassed OffBilly Elliott, and The Full Monty give the impression that England is a cold, grey place where everyone’s broke, the food is terrible, but somehow people can sing and dance really well.  As Little Voice, Jane Horrocks plays a young woman clearly on the autism spectrum, who has the ability to mimic the famous female singers in her father’s record collection.  She belts out all the standards, sounding EXACTLY like Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, and others.  Her promiscuous, neglectful mother dismisses her talent, until third-rate manager Ray Say (played by Michael Caine in one of his most impressive roles) decides LV could be his new cash cow.  They’re cruel enough to be Disney villains, if we’re viewing Little Voice as the endangered princess and Ewan McGregor her pigeon-raising prince. This movie isn’t for everyone, but if you love old records and the cockney accent of Michael Caine, you won’t be disappointed.

Reuniting Moulin Rouge actors Ewan McGregor and Jim Broadbent, Little Voice places Broadbent in the role of Master of Ceremonies once again- this time at Mr. Boo’s nightclub.  He’s got greasy, stringy hair and a sequined jacket, yet he’s the only one who seems to have even half a heart in this abusive situation.  While watching Little Voice, I recommend drinking this Boo’s Muse.

Boo’s Muse

1 ½ oz Gin

½ oz Campari

½ oz Simple Syrup

¾ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Orange Juice

Sparkling Rosé

Combine gin, Campari, simple syrup, lemon and orange juices in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice.  Top with sparkling rosé.  Garnish with an orange twist.

Boos Muse

In the end, I still love that this film celebrates the female voice.  Whether it’s Judy, or Marilyn, or Brenda Blethyn screeching at the top of her lungs, they all have the power to stop men in their tracks.  Little Voice’s songs may not be original, but this character is one of a kind.  Cheers!

Niagara

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Niagara

Image Credit: Niagara, 1953

I’m channeling my inner Marilyn this week with a trip to Niagara Falls, aka “Canada Vegas”.  If you want to get a sense of what this kitschy natural wonder is all about, look no further than the classic film noir Niagara (Disc/Download).  It’s a bold move to set a murder mystery in the capital of retro honeymoons, but the gamble pays off.  I’m not thinking about what germs are lurking in those heart-shaped bathtubs—I want to see if anyone’s getting pushed over the edge!

Starring Marilyn Monroe as a sultry adulteress plotting to murder her husband (Joseph Cotten), Niagara has a strong Hitchcockian vibe.  Although shot in color, the film is still considered a noir due to its heavy use of shadow and double-crossing villains.  The acting is fairly campy, but you can’t take your eyes off Marilyn in her hot pink dress and hips that don’t quit.  I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say, there’s murder, there’s suspense, and there’s A LOT of water.  Thanks to this movie, I’m inspired to wear my pink dress and sturdy shoes to the falls, and I plan on being extra-nice to my husband.  Maybe we’ll both make it through alive.

Conveniently, there’s a classic cocktail named after this tourist mecca that’s right in my wheelhouse. Sparkling and vodka-based, this will make you feel like you’re partying with Marilyn.  While watching Niagara, I recommend drinking a Niagara Falls cocktail.

Niagara Falls

1 oz Vodka

1 oz Cointreau

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

Ginger Ale

Combine Vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a champagne flute.  Top with ginger ale.

Niagara Falls

I love films where the setting plays an integral role in the story, and indeed, this film could not have taken place anywhere else.  You need the pounding water, the unrelenting spray, the slippery tourist paths to bring a sense of danger.  Niagara had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, like a boat hurtling toward the edge of the Falls.  Here’s hoping my own trip is a little less stressful.  Cheers!

Eat Pray Love

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eat pray love

Image credit: Eat Pray Love, 2010

I’ve written about several travel-centric movies this month, even gone to Spain and back.  And now it’s time to ask the question-  what does it all mean?  What’s the point of sitting in a cramped airline seat, fighting off jet lag, trying desperately to translate languages you only partly understand, and spending far too much money on shoes?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  To help me answer these questions, I’m watching the cinematic adaptation of a book that caused a generation of women to start saving up their frequent flier miles, Eat Pray Love (Disc/Download).

When I first saw this film almost ten years ago, I was underwhelmed.  It felt too long, too full of bumper sticker philosophy, too privileged. But now that I’ve grown up a bit, had some successes and setbacks of my own, I see it through a new lens.  What was once a story about an unsympathetic, deeply flawed woman traveling to Italy, India, and Bali to “find herself” (which in this case means eating carbs, wearing colorful scarves, and sweating beautifully) is now a permission slip.  It’s permission to chase happiness, to make mistakes, and to take care of yourself.  It’s permission to have that second glass of wine, to have the courage to extricate yourself from a relationship that’s gone south, and to do something wildly irresponsible (in my case, taking a trip to Menorca while I’m still paying off my new kitchen). If Elizabeth Gilbert’s book and this film have taught us anything, it’s that we only have this one life.  What we do with it is entirely up to us—a fact that’s equal parts scary, exciting, and empowering.  I may not have all the answers yet, but I believe balance might eventually be within grasp.

There’s a lot of beautiful scenery in this film, but I most connect with the scenes shot in Rome and Naples.  The pizza! The pasta!  The delightful small cars!  To celebrate this search for pleasure, I’ll be making a cocktail I found on my own travels, which uses my favorite summertime Italian aperitif. While watching Eat Pray Love, I recommend drinking an Aperol Sour.

Aperol Sour

2 oz Aperol

½ oz Gin

¾ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

1 egg white

Orange peel for garnish

Add Aperol, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white to a cocktail shaker.  Do a dry shake to combine, then add ice.  Shake vigorously until chilled and frothy (about a minute).  Strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with an orange peel.

Aperol Sour

On my recent vacation, I spent a lot of time on the beach reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s other bestselling book, Big Magic.  In the way that Eat Pray Love encourages us to find balance in our lives, Big Magic encourages us to find the creative energy within and let it out into the world.  This may all be a lot of self-help mumbo jumbo, but I can’t deny that both of these books, and this film, have brought new energy into my writing.  And I give special thanks to Eat Pray Love for introducing me to my favorite mantra: Smile with your liver.  Cheers!

Call Me by Your Name

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call me by your name

Image credit: Call Me By Your Name, 2017.

I’ve already featured this week’s film Call Me by Your Name (Disc/Download) on my Top Five list for 2017, but now it’s time for an official cocktail pairing.  And let’s face it- I’ll use any excuse to sink into the eyes of Timothée Chalamet for a couple hours. Join me in remembering what it was like to be young, in love, and very very passionate about fruit.

Based on the gut-wrenchingly beautiful novel by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is set in a small Italian village in 1983. Archaeology grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) travels to a professor’s villa in Italy to help with research for the summer.  There he meets the professor’s teenage son Elio, and the two share flirtatious glances across the breakfast table.  Tension builds and builds, until at long last they become lovers.  Everything about this movie is beautiful, from the romantic script by James Ivory, to the lush scenery of Italy, to the haunting Sufjan Stevens soundtrack, and it feels like a vacation that’s just too perfect to last.  Kind of like the love story of Elio and Oliver.

I’ll admit, the peach scene in this film left me pretty aghast and/or awestruck, but it also inspired me to make a tasty summertime cocktail.  While watching Call Me by Your Name, I recommend drinking a Peach Collins.

Peach Collins

1 ½ oz Deep Eddy Peach Vodka

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

Splash of club soda

Peach slice for garnish

Combine vodka, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice.  Shake until combined and chilled, then strain into a glass filled with ice.  Top with club soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a peach slice.

peach collins

There’s been talk of a sequel to this film, which excites me to no end.  Having read the book, I can say there’s definitely more to Elio and Oliver’s story that’s deserving of screen time.  In the meantime, we can sit in front of the fireplace and sob, wishing things could be different.  Wishing more movies like this got made- movies that show us love, and all its many forms, in beautiful, sun-dappled light.  Cheers!

Stealing Beauty

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stealing beauty

Image credit: Stealing Beauty, 1996.

The votes are in, and it’s official: Stealing Beauty (Disc/Download) is the sexiest movie ever made.  Nobody is more shocked than I, that Bernardo “Pass the Butter” Bertolucci managed to make a film that speaks to the angst of being a woman rather than just a base exploitation of the female body.  As a director, he carries us on a journey of personal and sexual awakening, and believe me—it’s a trip you want to take.

Stealing Beauty features Liv Tyler as Lucy, a nineteen-year-old American vacationing at a Tuscan villa owned by family friends. She’s come to Italy to find her birth father and lose her virginity, though not necessarily in that order.  A testament to the folly of youth, Lucy thinks she wants her first time to be with predatory playboy Niccoló Donati, never realizing that his shy friend Osvaldo is the real catch.  Everyone staying at the villa seems to have an opinion on her love life, making Lucy alternately blush and/or run off into the scrub brush with no shoes.  Repeatedly. When the loss of her virginity finally happens, we’re so keyed up as viewers that it honestly does feel like a release.  The movie is alive with desire and wanting, placing us right there with her in the rolling, sun-warmed hills of Tuscany.

Because most of the villa’s inhabitants are English, and we all know how the Brits love their gin & tonics, I’ll be enjoying something that combines the flavors of Italy and England.  While watching Stealing Beauty, I recommend drinking this Tuscan G&T.

Tuscan G&T

2 ½ oz London dry gin

3 oz Italian dry red wine

½ oz simple syrup

Tonic Water

Orange and lime wheels for garnish

Combine gin, wine, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with ice.  Top with tonic water, and garnish with orange and lime.

tuscan g&t

Despite its visual and thematic sensuality, Stealing Beauty isn’t just about sex; it’s about poetry and art and death and above all, life. It’s about being shaken up, to see if you really know yourself inside and out.  And of course, it’s about finding joy, whether it’s tits out in a sculpture garden, or diving for sunken treasure in the pool. Cheers!