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Category Archives: Dramas

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 Cotton), 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!

The Virgin Suicides

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Virgin Suicides

Image Credit: The Virgin Suicides, 1999.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I watch an adaptation of a work of literary fiction and think, “The book was better.” But The Virgin Suicides (Disc/Download) is one film where this phrase does not apply. Though I loved Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, Sofia Coppola made me see things within the pages that I missed the first time around. The angst of adolescence, the impulsivity, the dreaminess—I definitely need a cocktail if I’m going to put myself back in the mind of a thirteen-year-old girl.

Starring Kirsten Dunst as the rebel within a family of five beautiful sisters, the film’s narration uses Eugenides’ words as a roadmap, treating us to his gorgeous prose. Set in 1970’s suburban Detroit, we get to know the Lisbon sisters through the eyes of their admirers, a group of hopelessly besotted neighborhood boys. When one of the sisters commits suicide, their overbearing parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) place the remaining girls under house arrest, and their only contact with the outside world is through their vinyl collection and a vintage phone. The boys try to rescue them, but that’s the thing about being a teenage girl—nobody can really save you from it.

One of my favorite parts of the film is when the Lisbon sisters attend a homecoming dance. They laugh and drink peach schnapps and make out with inappropriate boys, and it’s such a microcosm of what we expect adolescence to be, but rarely is. For these characters, it was like a dream that couldn’t last. While watching The Virgin Suicides, celebrate the hope of being a teenage girl with a First Blush.

First Blush

1 oz peach schnapps

1 oz grenadine

5 oz champagne

Pour chilled peach schnapps and grenadine into a flute, and top with champagne.

First Blush

What Sofia Coppola does so well as a director is capture a specific time and place with her unique artistic flair. ‘70s suburbia looks like a Formica fantasy filled with patterned wallpaper, female grooming detritus, and records strewn across the floor. It looks like a place where nothing bad could ever happen, until of course, it does. It always does. Cheers!

 

Coal Miner’s Daughter

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Coal Miner's Daughter

Image credit: Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980.

When I first thought about watching the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter (Disc/Download), I’ll admit to being a little turned off. A teenager marries an abusive  older man, pops out a bunch of babies, then magically becomes a country music star ? This sounds like a movie-of-the-week that’s too depressing and bonkers even for me. But then I started looking at it as a great excuse to drink Moonshine and swiftly came around.

Deep in the coal mining counties of Kentucky, Loretta (Sissy Spacek) grows up in a tiny house with so many siblings I lose track. She marries Doolittle Lynn, played by the very charismatic Tommy Lee Jones, however it’s clear she doesn’t really know what marriage is. Because she’s, you know, A TEENAGER. This whole part is pretty gross, particularly when her husband rapes her on her wedding night, then slaps her around for good measure. Loretta and Doolittle eventually make it out of that Kentucky holler and move to Washington state, where she gets a guitar. She teaches herself to play, gets on the radio, hooks up with the lovely Patsy Cline, sells a ton of records, and becomes the first lady of Country Music. And somehow during all of this, her deadbeat husband is transformed into a supportive guy who expertly manages her burgeoning career, then stays at home with the kids while she goes on tour. The first and second halves of the film don’t quite match up, but it’s still a joy to watch Spacek and Jones spar in their charming hillbilly accents  while the hair gets higher and the sequins more plentiful.

Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn’s other nickname is Mooney, after the moonshine he sells.  Because when you’re living in coal country, you need to use every tool at your disposal to get through the day. Certainly, moonshine helps me get through the troubling first half of this film. While watching Coal Miner’s Daughter, I recommend drinking a Kentucky Holler.

Kentucky Holler

1.5 oz Moonshine

¾ oz Lemon Juice

¾ oz Blueberry Drink Syrup (I use IKEA brand—they’re more than just cheap couches and meatballs!)

1 Egg White

Lemon Twist

Combine moonshine, lemon juice, blueberry syrup, and egg white in a shaker. Do a dry shake to combine ingredients, then fill the shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until chilled and frothy. Strain into a mason jar filled with crushed ice, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Kentucky Holler

One of the standout characters in Coal Miner’s Daughter is Patsy Cline, played by a delightful Beverly D’Angelo. Honestly, I think I’d rather just watch a movie about Patsy. She’s the kind of friend we all wish we had, and the kind of friend we should all aspire to be. One of the great things I love about women in creative fields is that they tend to lift each other up, not compete and tear each other down. I see this with writing, and also music and filmmaking. So while this film may not show men in the best light, it sure does make me glad to be a woman. Cheers!

Love & Mercy

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Love & Mercy

Image credit: Love & Mercy, 2014.

The above photo says it all. I cannot resist 1960’s California modern architecture and will watch literally any movie that features it. Lucky for me, Brian Wilson apparently owned a seriously cool house, straight out of Blake Edward’s The Party. Wilson also wrote some great songs with The Beach Boys, but let’s be clear- I’m here for his swimming pool. Grab your sunblock and antidepressants—we’re watching Love & Mercy (Disc/Download).

As far as music biopics go, this one doesn’t follow the standard formula. Switching back and forth between 1960’s and 1980’s Brian Wilson, the film stars Paul Dano and John Cusack as two versions of the same complicated man. In the heyday of The Beach Boys, he was the mad genius behind so many of their hits, crying out for help in his lyrics, with a family unwilling and/or unable to see that he needed serious medical attention. By the time the 1980’s hit, he’d lost a brother, spent a decade in bed, and hooked up with crooked doctor Eugene Landy (played by a villainous Paul Giamatti). Shuffling through life like a sad, lonely child, he’s trapped in a haze of pharmaceuticals until he meets Cadillac saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks), who helps him find a way out from under Landy’s control. While Paul Dano gets the splashier role of young Brian, mixing it up in the studio and harmonizing over Pet Sounds, John Cusack’s performance is so quiet and lovely you almost miss it. The romance he shares with Melinda makes you feel like this is what he’d been singing about all that time– he just didn’t know it yet. God only knows what he’d be without her.

Although I love the ‘60s aesthetic in half of the movie, I also adore Elizabeth Banks going full-on ‘80s with her hot-rolled hair and pastel sweaters. If this lady were a cocktail, she would be something light, refreshing, and sweet. She would be a Sea Breeze.

Sea Breeze

1 ½ oz Vodka

4 oz Cranberry Juice

1 oz grapefruit juice

Lime Wedge

Combine vodka, cranberry, and grapefruit juices in a shaker with ice.  Shake until well mixed, then dump entire contents of shaker into a glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

The real Brian Wilson is still touring the country, packing venues full of middle-aged men in Hawaiian shirts and one very nostalgic Liz Locke. And good for him! Between this film, his records, and those concerts, I’m left with nothing but Good Vibrations, and a Smile. Cheers!