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Category Archives: Dramas

Meet Joe Black

Image credit: Meet Joe Black, 1998

They say nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. Having dealt with the loss of my father over the past few weeks, only to come home to a slew of W-2 and 1099 forms piled up in the mail, I can affirm this is true. After struggling to find a film that represents the impact my dad has had on my movie-going life, I wound up back here– in 1998, with a fully-highlighted, fully bonkers Brad Pitt, in this week’s pick Meet Joe Black (Disc/Download).

The thing about my dad was that he was up for anything as long as it meant he got to spend time with me. After I turned full “surly teenager”, he saw the writing on the wall. The late ’90s would be one of Lilith Fair concerts, swing dance classes (because Swingers), and movies. Dozens and dozens of movies. Without fail, every other Friday night we had a date to watch whatever celluloid scraps the film gods dumped upon middle-America. Meet Joe Black was such a scrap. At three hours long, this drama about a New York media tycoon (Anthony Hopkins) playing host to the grim reaper (Pitt) feels a bit like that long march to the grave. And yet… when the end finally comes, I’m not ready. I want more of the Brad we see in his first scene, before he gets clobbered (twice!) by a car. The Brad who knows how to sit in a goddamn chair and not look like a lost, mentally disabled twelve-year old at every turn. The Brad who is SO DAMN CHARMING in his meet-cute with Claire Forlani that I’ve moved my VHS copy of this movie through five households because I can’t bear to say goodbye to that scene. And reader, it was a two-tape movie.

Once Death decides to inhabit the body of Brad Pitt (because why not pick our finest living specimen?), all training goes out the window. The thing is, Brad is currently one of my favorite working character actors. But knowing what he’s capable of now only makes the scenes of him eating peanut butter that much worse. This week, let’s drown our sorrows in a cocktail Joe would thoroughly approve of. While watching Meet Joe Black, I recommend drinking this Peanut Butter Man cocktail.

Peanut Butter Man

1.5 oz Peanut Butter Whiskey

.75 oz Rye

3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters

Luxardo Maraschino Cherry

Orange twist

Combine peanut butter whiskey, rye, and bitters in a glass over ice. Stir until chilled, then garnish with a cherry and orange twist.

Brad’s acting aside, the main problem with this film is pacing. Many parts seem to drag on for an eternity, however this is actually a good thing when it comes to the few love scenes we’re given. You see, Death falls for the daughter of the man he’s come to claim, and before his vacation is over, he wants to have one final roll in the luxury high-rise hay. This scene is incredibly well shot, and could be a lesson to future romance films (not that these are even being made anymore, but I digress). The simple fact that my dad and I watched this together without a troubling amount of awkwardness speaks to its tastefulness. There’s a lot to mock about Meet Joe Black, but beneath the highlights, beneath the funny accents, lies a movie with a strong heartbeat. It’s a love story between man and woman, and father and daughter. It’s a story of Death yes, but also a celebration of life. And it’s the reminder I need that someday, “Everyting gwarn be iree.” Cheers!

Saturday Night Fever

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Image credit: Saturday Night Fever, 1977

Sometimes, when the days are dark and the world is falling apart, you just want to forget it all for a night and dance. Cue Saturday Night Fever (Disc/Download). This picture returned to my radar after watching a fantastic documentary about the Bee Gees, whose soundtrack was perhaps more influential and long-lasting than the film itself. However, watching it now, I’m once again blown away by how complex and interesting this “little disco movie” really is.

As we get our first glimpse of John Travolta walking down his Brooklyn street carrying a can of paint, the viewer gets an immediate sense of this character before he even says a word. Tony Manero is confident, slick, knows how to move to the beat of a song, yet seems to be seeking the approval of every person around him. We expect him to be the stereotypical male bimbo, but it’s a credit to the writers and Travolta that Tony is so nuanced. He’s horribly misogynist, yet shows genuine remorse when called out on it. He throws out racial slurs, yet gets mad when the Hispanic couple in his dance competition doesn’t get a fair shot. He’s the king of Brooklyn, but knows he’s wasting his life as a big fish in a small pond. It’s interesting to watch this in 2021 because here is a white male who has been brought up in a culture which inherently disrespects minorities and women, but gives hints he might have the courage and willingness to change. That’s just not something we see from a lot of men nowadays, on screen or in person. Do we need disco to make a comeback? Because on that dance floor, with the lights spinning all around, everyone is equal. Either you can dance or you can’t, and one’s value is completely based in how hard they’ve worked to perfect the steps. Rich, poor, black, white, brown, male, female, gay, straight—none of it matters. Music is everything.

To celebrate the outer borough Tony and his lady friend Stephanie so desperately want to escape, I’ll be drinking this variation on the Manhattan. It’s looks similar, but has more bitter notes (it’s probably just sick of crossing that bridge every day). While watching Saturday Night Fever, I recommend drinking a classic Brooklyn cocktail.

Brooklyn

1 ½ oz Rye Whiskey

½ oz Dry Vermouth

¼ oz Orange Bitters

¼ oz Maraschino Liqueur

Luxardo Maraschino cherry for garnish

Combine whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and maraschino liqueur in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a chilled martini glass.  Drop in a Luxardo cherry.

It’s surprising to me that this movie is sometimes labeled a romance on streaming platforms. Although it concludes with Tony and Stephanie sharing a soulful moment set to “How Deep is Your Love”, and it has some sexy dance scenes, that’s as much of a love story as we’re given. If anything, the romance is between Tony and disco. So that’s why, every time I’m combing through a stack of vinyl and see that familiar cover of John Travolta in his white suit (because every vinyl stack has one), I find myself smiling. In the end, Tony and disco had their happily ever after; it endures on my turntable. Cheers!

Showgirls

Image Credit: Showgirls, 1995

I am not here to debate the merits of this week’s Cinema Sips pick, Showgirls (Disc). Entire dissertations have been written on the subject, and the entertaining documentary You Don’t Nomi covered it pretty well. What I am here to say is this: if you’re looking for a fun, champagne-filled movie to say goodbye to the doggie chow-flavored year that was 2020, then grab your glitter and your nail kits and take a New Year’s trip to Las Vegas with me.

In this All About Eve-inspired tale of female ambition, Elizabeth Berkley plays Nomi Malone, a down-on-her-luck dancer who dreams of seeing her name in lights. Hitching a ride to Vegas, she somehow manages to land a free couch in a costume designer’s trailer while working her way up from stripper to classy burlesque artist. Most of the initial ridicule for this film stems from Berkley’s acting, which is absurdly aggressive. However, based on how campy the dialogue is, I have to think she was encouraged to play it over-the-top. Gina Gershon and Kyle MacLachlan lend a bit of respectability to the cast… but only a bit. I have to say though, as ridiculous as this movie is, I’ve seen a lot worse this year. My opinion? Look past the boobs, look past the bad acting, and what you’re left with is a story about a powerful woman who will stop at nothing to get to the top. The fact that she does it covered in glitter only makes me love her more.

Showgirls is a great film for New Year’s Eve because there is champagne in almost every scene. For my drink pairing, I decided to do a twist on the traditional Porn Star cocktail (which typically comes with a shot of champagne on the side) in favor of this simpler concoction. While watching Showgirls, I recommend drinking this Lap Dance cocktail.

Lap Dance

1 1/2 oz Vanilla Vodka

3/4 oz Lime Juice

3/4 oz Passion Fruit Syrup

Pinch of Edible Glitter

2-3 oz Prosecco

Lime Wheel

Combine vodka, lime juice, passion fruit syrup, and glitter in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a martini or coupe glass. Top with prosecco and garnish with a lime wheel.

Even though the drink is probably better than the movie, Showgirls tends to get more enjoyable with every viewing. I suppose once I stopped expecting it to make sense, and just took it for what it was always intended to be– a cheap thrill– I started to appreciate what director Paul Verhoeven was trying to do. Like the year 2020, Showgirls might not be something we ever look back on with warm, nostalgic fondness, but if nothing else, it’s unforgettable. Cheers!

All That Heaven Allows

Image Credit: All That Heaven Allows, 1955

Although not typically thought of as a Christmas flick, the second I watched All That Heaven Allows (Disc) during a Douglas Sirk Deep Dive last summer, I knew I had to cover it in December. If you’re ever paranoid you’ve chosen a terrible Christmas present for your mom, reassure yourself with this movie. I promise, whatever it is, it’s nowhere near as bad as what Cary Scott’s adult children send to her doorstep.

To be fair, a television is not a terrible gift on its own. But when you’re A) refusing to spend Christmas with your sad, widowed mother, and B) have driven off the only hope of happiness this woman has for your own puritanical, selfish reasons, this television is the insult to end all insults. It says to her, “We know that you live alone. Here’s something to distract you until you eventually die alone.”  I’ve previously lamented the terrible children in classic Christmas movies (see Holiday Affair); however, the college-aged offspring in this one are actually The Worst. All Cary (Jane Wyman) wants to do is find a little joy after losing her husband. She happens to find it with a man nine years her junior (a flannel-loving Rock Hudson), but before she even has a chance to finish one martini, her friends and family lose their collective sh*t. Cary yearns for the freedom to love who she wants, and it takes the mother of all insulting Christmas gifts for her to realize she’s strong enough to tell ‘em all to go to hell. She wants Rock, she wants that flannel, and she does not want a television.

This is definitely a martini-heavy flick (it was the ‘50s after all…), so I’m thrilled to highlight a favorite holiday cocktail of mine. It’s strong, it’s flavorful, and best of all, it’s easy. While watching All That Heaven Allows, I recommend this Cozy Cabin Martini.

Cozy Cabin Martini

2 oz Gin

¾ oz Ginger Liqueur

½ oz Lime Juice

2 sprigs Rosemary

Muddle a sprig of Rosemary in the bottom of a shaker with lime juice. Add Ginger Liqueur, Gin, and ice. Shake well, and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of Rosemary.

All That Heaven Allows inspired another movie I recently enjoyed (Far From Heaven), and both are fantastic picks if you want to get swept up in a domestic drama featuring cocktails and gorgeous ‘50s dresses. But if I have to pick a favorite, it would be this Douglas Sirk masterpiece. It may not be overtly “Christmas-y”, but it reminds me of what I’m most thankful for every time this holiday rolls around- love, and a child-free life. Cheers!

Stand By Me

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Image credit: Stand By Me, 1986

It’s official—pie season is upon us. Although I think most of us can agree that Waitress is the ultimate pie movie to watch during the lead-up to Thanksgiving, there’s another film that highlights the true American struggle of eating a ton of baked goods in a short amount of time, while trying not to barf. From the brilliant, twisted mind of Stephen King comes this week’s Cinema Sips pick, Stand By Me (Disc/Download).

Directed by Rob Reiner, this adaptation of a King short story centers on four twelve-year-old boys who go in search of the dead body of a missing teen. With their bedrolls, canteens, and comb (thanks, Vern), they follow the train tracks from their tiny Oregon town into the wilderness. Along the way, they encounter a river full of leeches, a junkyard dog named Chopper, and a scary group of high school hoodlums (led by a menacing Kiefer Sutherland). River Phoenix is magnetic as Chris, the smart delinquent who’s protective of his sensitive friend Gordie (Wil Wheaton), while Jerry O’Connell and Corey Feldman provide some much needed comic relief. This coming-of-age story is funny, poignant, and incredibly relatable, even for those of us who didn’t grow up at the tail end of the 1950s. I think we all remember what it felt like to have schoolyard friendships that seemed like they’d last forever, but in hindsight were always destined to be temporary.

Now, back to pies. Proving his talent for storytelling, Gordie spins a fantastic yarn around the campfire about the sweet, sweet taste of revenge. In his story, a bullied teen gets back at the cruel townsfolk who taunted him by entering a pie-eating contest. Things are going well, until halfway through… well I won’t spoil it, but maybe finish your slice of pie before you watch this movie. Inspired by the gorgeous blueberry pies poor “Lardass” sinks his face into, while watching Stand By Me, I’ll be drinking this Blueberry Pie Martini.

Blueberry Pie Martini

2 oz Blueberry Vodka

½ oz Vanilla Vodka

½ oz Orange Liqueur

½ oz Blueberry Simple Syrup

1 oz Lime Juice

Fresh Blueberries (Garnish)

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

2020 has been tough on us all. If you’re like me, maybe you’ve found yourself reaching out to friends you haven’t talked to in a long time, checking in, making sure they’re okay. As Stand By Me shows, just because you may have lost touch with someone doesn’t mean you’re not grateful for the part they played in your life. After all, someone had to bring the comb. Cheers!

Psycho

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Image credit: Psycho, 1960.

There’s a fine line between the kind of horror movie I can handle, and the kind I can’t. A great example of a “Liz Locke-approved Scary Movie” is this week’s pick Psycho (Disc/Download). Even though Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece makes me anxious about taking a shower ever again, the psychological suspense is so well crafted that I almost welcome the terror. Plus, you know I love any movie set in a hotel ;-).

Although this film would later be remade shot-for-shot in color by Gus Van Sant, I’ll always prefer the original black-and-white version. It removes the viewer from the action a little bit, reminding us that this is fiction, and Norman Bates is not peering at me through a peephole or waiting behind a curtain with a knife in his hand. The noise I heard halfway through shampooing my hair was just the dog.

IT’S JUST THE DOG.

In his performance as a disturbed serial killer, Anthony Perkins is equal parts creepy and likeable, similar to all those other famous murderers we’ve heard about in podcasts and documentaries. You know the type: average guy next door; he wouldn’t hurt a fly. And as one of his victims, Janet Leigh’s character Marion isn’t exactly innocent, but she’s so sweet and unsuspecting of what’s about to happen to her that the viewer almost forgets she’s a “bad girl” on the run. This is what I love about Psycho– you think you understand who the criminal is in the first ten minutes, only to realize you had no idea what level of depraved criminal you’re soon about to meet.

When Marion Crane checks into the Bates Motel, she’s probably expecting to relax with her suitcase full of money and a nice cold cocktail (I know that’s what I like to do on vacation, anyway). Instead, she’s stuck talking to a sad loner about his taxidermy collection, over a pile of white bread and pitcher of water. Is this the hospitality industry or prison?? Let’s bring some fun to this lobby party with a cocktail inspired by the upcoming shower scene. While watching Psycho, I recommend drinking this 12 Cabins, 12 Vacancies cocktail.

12 Cabins, 12 Vacancies

2 oz Red Wine

1 oz Pineapple Juice

¾ oz Simple Syrup

¾ oz Lime Juice

Club Soda

Add the red wine, pineapple juice, simple syrup, and lime juice to a highball glass over ice. Top with soda water, and stir well to combine. Garnish with a dehydrated blood orange.

As blood circles the drain in one of the most artistic murder scenes ever filmed, notice how it looks remarkably like the red wine in your cocktail. Apparently Hitch used chocolate syrup, but personally I prefer a boozier option. This is a refreshing drink that’s easy to refill as you watch Norman descend deeper and deeper into madness. But then again, don’t we all go a little mad sometimes? Especially after a few tipples? Cheers and Happy Halloween!

Far From Heaven

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Image credit: Far From Heaven, 2002.

In many ways, I owe the existence of Cinema Sips to this week’s film, Far From Heaven (Disc/Download). When I had the idea seven years ago to start writing about films and cocktails, it was based on the image of Julianne Moore in a perfect pastel 1950s dress, pouring a pitcher of daiquiris for her girlfriends in the middle of the day. That, right there, was the life I wanted for myself. Unfortunately, I (and most of my girlfriends) have day jobs. There are no lunchtime daiquiris, and most of us live in different states at this point. But what if we could all watch a movie, make a cocktail, and feel like we were together? And what if I could share the experience with the whole world? Just like that, Cinema Sips was born.

It’s no shock that I adore this movie, since I’ve raved on here before about my love of the ’50s melodrama. From Douglas Sirk films like Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows, to Sirk-adjacent picks like Peyton Place and A Summer Place, I simply cannot get enough of beautiful facades hiding the torrid scandals of a soap opera. Every detail of Todd Haynes’ homage to vintage melodramas is perfection, from the tailored dresses, to the stellar production design, to the script that touches on everything from racism to homosexual shame to domestic violence. You see, even though these characters exist in an idyllic world of brightly colored autumn leaves and silk party dresses, beneath that surface lies a lot of pain and sadness.

As I mentioned, this movie gets me very excited about daiquiris in the middle of the day. If you’re looking for that recipe, you can find it here. However, now I’d like to pay tribute to modern housewives, who, each September, start sucking back the Pumpkin Spice products like a seasonal heroin. Pumpkin Spice was not really “a thing” during the 1950s, but if it were, I’m pretty sure Cathy and her gal pals would be enjoying a pitcher of these Pumpkin Spice Margaritas.

Pumpkin Spice Margaritas

2 parts Reposado Tequila

1 part Cointreau

1 part Lime Juice

2 parts Pumpkin Spice Puree*

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail pitcher with ice. Stir until chilled, then pour into glasses filled with fresh ice.

*Pumpkin Spice Puree: Combine 1 cup brown sugar + 1 cup Water + 2 Tsp Ground Pumpkin Spice in a saucepan. Heat until lightly boiling and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, then stir in 3/4 cup Canned Pure Pumpkin Puree. Cool, and refrigerate.

In the role of Cathy Whitaker, Julianne Moore shows us that even though many of us may look back fondly on a lot of things from this era, in the end we’re only gazing at a pretty picture. The reality was anything but pretty. If I had my pick, I’d leave the intolerance back in the previous century, but keep the dresses and decor. Day-drinking with friends can also stay. Cheers!

Dead Poets Society

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Image credit: Dead Poets Society, 1989

If nothing else, the horror-show that is 2020 has proven once and for all that teachers are goddamn heroes. Often putting their lives and personal sanity at risk, they’ve had to work three times as hard this year to ensure that kids are not only educated, but comforted during these unprecedented, uncertain times. Even when faced with a laptop screen full of tiny faces, it’s up to them to make every child feel safe, and above all, seen. No movie has communicated the truth of this better than Dead Poet’s Society (Disc/Download).

A perfect pick for Fall viewing, Peter Weir’s film opens on a bucolic New England boarding school just as the leaves are starting to change. The boys who inhabit these drafty buildings want so badly to be men, and it isn’t until they meet their new English professor Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) that they start to learn what that truly means. You see, Mr. Keating doesn’t just teach them poetry. He teaches them to be brave, to inhabit the world with honor, and that feelings and emotions matter. To me, this shows what an important role a great teacher can play in one’s life. At the end of it all, you might not remember what a quadratic equation is, or who wrote the words, “O Captain! My Captain!” but you’re damn sure going to remember the person who encouraged you to be curious about the world, and fearless in the face of adversity.

Because this movie gives me all the cozy New England vibes, I’ll be drinking a nice, warming apple brandy cocktail, perfect for poetry readings in caves. While watching Dead Poet’s Society, I recommend drinking this Captain’s Mule.

Captain’s Mule

1 ½ oz Calvados Apple Brandy

½ oz Lime Juice

3 dashes Angostura Bitters

6 oz Ginger Beer

Dried Apple for garnish

Place first three ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a copper mug filled with fresh ice. Top with ginger beer, and garnish with dried apple.

There have been a lot of great teachers in cinema, but out of all of them, John Keating is the one I most wish I’d had the pleasure of knowing. Someone to tell me that words are important, and to not be so afraid that my thoughts are worthless or embarrassing. If Cinema Sips is my barbaric YAWP!, then let it be heard. Cheers!

Summertime

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Summertime

Image credit: Summertime, 1955

It’s official- the summer doldrums are here. Every July, I become a thoroughly unpleasant person to be around as I slog through a Groundhog Day existence of air conditioning and double showers. But this year, I made the wise choice to take a short jaunt to Venice with Katharine Hepburn in the lush 1950s drama Summertime (Disc/Download). And cookie, I’m glad I did.

When this film begins, Hepburn’s character Jane is excited about her trip to Venice. She’s saved up for it, made all the arrangements, and idealized the Italian city in her mind. She knows it’s a place for romance, but she doesn’t even dare hope for that. She’s been single a long time, and well…it’s enough just to see the beautiful canals. That’s what she tells herself, anyway. But then she actually arrives and discovers that Venice is THE WORST place to go if you’re single. I should know—I went there alone in 2002 and it was the loneliest trip of my life. Thankfully, she meets a charming antiques dealer, who may or may not be trustworthy, but still manages to pull her out of her shell and turn this trip from depressing to romantic. It’s here that Hepburn makes you feel what it is to fall for someone. To hope, but not let yourself hope too much, then to take that first tentative step before rushing in with open arms and saying “I love you” on the first date. She may get her heart broken, but oh, that first, initial joy is worth it. To truly live, is worth it.

Aside from my admiration for this character’s wardrobe (an enviable mix of shirt dresses and plucky hair bows), I also love that Jane travels with her own bourbon. You just can’t count on a foreign country to have all the comforts of home. Lucky for Jane, her pensione has all the ingredients on hand to turn that bourbon into a classic Boulevardier.

Boulevardier

1.5 oz Bourbon

1 oz Campari

1 oz Cinzano Sweet Red Vermouth

Orange Twist and Cherry garnish

Combine first three ingredients in a shaker with ice. Stir until chilled and combined, then strain into a glass filled with a large ice cube. Garnish with a twist of orange and Luxardo cherry.

Boulevardier

Cousin to the more popular Negroni, I actually prefer a Boulevardier if I’m going to commit to a heavier, alcohol-forward cocktail. And really, that’s what this movie needs. Something a little bitter, a little sweet, and very strong, just like Jane’s heart. Cheers!

Parasite

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Parasite

Image credit: Parasite, 2019

I’ve already included Bong Joon Ho’s Academy Award-winning masterpiece Parasite (Disc/Download) on my Top 5 list for 2019, but the film is so good, so memorable, that I think it deserves its own cocktail pairing. Fair warning- make your drink before the movie starts, not during, because you won’t want to miss a second.

Kill-and-eat-the-rich is a compelling theme not just in cinema, but in a lot of different art forms. While we might enjoy the temporary window into “how the other half lives”, it’s equally gratifying to watch the wealthy suffer the consequences of callous obliviousness. In Parasite, I get to spend time in a gorgeous modern home, every inch designed for stylish comfort, while also getting the satisfaction of a bloody denouement. But the incredible thing about Parasite is that nobody comes out looking great. Both the rich and the poor have their flaws, existing together in this strange co-dependent world of master and servant.  It really makes you wonder who’s actually in control here. The person writing the checks, or the person actually doing the work? Which one is really the parasite?

There’s a great plot twist involving the skin of a peach, and while I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie, just know that it makes for wonderful cocktail inspiration. While watching Parasite, try this simple Peach Fuzz cocktail!

Peach Fuzz

1.5 oz Peach Vodka

.5 oz Lemon Juice

.5 oz Pineapple Gum Syrup

2 oz Prosecco

Fresh pineapple or peach for garnish

Peach Fuzz

Combine vodka, lemon juice, and pineapple syrup in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a martini or coupe glass. Top with Prosecco, and garnish with pineapple or peach.

If anybody wonders why Parasite swept the Oscars, it’s because this film is storytelling at its finest. Every second, from the editing, to the direction, to the performances, to the script, is tight as a drum, with not an inch of wasted celluloid to be found. In fact, when I saw this in the theater, I’d made the mistake of having a couple cocktails before the show. Halfway through… I needed a bathroom break. I kept waiting for a slow moment, which never came. Eventually, I just had to give up and run like hell to the ladies room. When I returned, not two minutes later, I asked my husband what I’d missed. He answered: Everything.

Cheers to home viewing, and the pause button!