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Category Archives: Dramas

Cast Away

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Image credit: Cast Away, 2000

Isolation, survival—these are words we’ve heard a lot over the past several years. They’re words that echo in my head as the summer blues set in, and I start to forget what it’s like to walk outdoors in the middle of the day, meet a friend for a drink, or even talk to anyone outside of my immediate household. My dog may as well be named Wilson. Thus it seems appropriate to revisit the Tom Hanks classic Cast Away (Disc/Download), the movie that always reminds me that no matter how lonely or frustrated I may feel about spending June-September trapped indoors, things could be worse.

When FedEx employee Chuck Noland washes up on a remote beach in the South Pacific after a harrowing plane crash, he’s still sporting a fuzzy Fair Isle Christmas sweater and a little holiday weight. He must use whatever was in his pockets to stay alive until he’s rescued, which it turns out consists of nothing more than an antique watch, a flashlight, and one sock. Eventually some FedEx packages from the crash wash up, giving him a few more marginally useful items (VHS tapes—who knew???), as well as volleyball BFF, Wilson. The audience thinks this will be just a short stay on the isle of loneliness, until the film jumps four years into the future and Hanks is… still there. He’s slim, he’s blonde, he’s learned to catch fish and make fire, and he’s made a little cave home. He’s adapted, as we all did in the spring of 2020. The struggle is still there, but now it’s a constant buzzing in the background, instead of an intermittent roar.

Speaking of struggle, this guy has it rough. Making fire is a battle waged with calloused, bleeding hands, and don’t even get me started on the coconuts. Piña Coladas will never look the same to me. Let’s toast this castaway’s ingenuity and perseverance with a tasty Tiki cocktail, the Suffering Bastard.

Suffering Bastard

1 oz Brandy

1 oz Gin

½ oz Lime Juice

¼ oz Simple Syrup

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

4 oz Ginger Beer

Fill a glass with ice and set aside. Add more ice to a shaker, along with Brandy, Gin, lime juice, simple syrup and bitters. Shake until chilled and combined, then strain into prepared glass. Top with ginger beer and stir gently.

To look at still frames of this movie, one would think Noland has landed in paradise. But what that picture doesn’t show is the yearning he feels for his loved ones, the sadness from feeling forgotten and stuck, and the desperation that would drive a man to head into the vast ocean with nothing more than a few logs and half a Porta Potty. And of course, Wilson. Because like the Bette Midler song says, you gotta have friends. Cheers!

Magnificent Obsession

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Image credit: Magnificent Obsession, 1954

I’m always up for a good Rock Hudson catfishing scheme, and after watching him ensnare Doris Day in Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back, I’m ready for him to hook Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession (Disc). So long Rex Stetson and Linus Tyler—meet Robbie Robinson.

In Douglas Sirk’s classic melodrama, Hudson plays Bob Merrick, a supreme jerk who enjoys fast boats and fast women. That is, until his actions contribute to the death of Helen Phillips’s husband, and eventually, to the loss of her sight. Realizing he has to make a change, he seizes his chance when the newly blind, widowed Helen encounters him on the shores of her lakeside retreat. They begin a relationship, which becomes a… wait for it… magnificent obsession as Merrick does everything in his power (including going to medical school and becoming a world-renowned brain surgeon???) to transform himself into a man worthy of her. The only catch? She doesn’t immediately realize the person she’s falling in love with (Robbie) is the same guy (Bob) who brought so much tragedy to her life.

If this sounds like a soap opera, that’s because it is. And because it’s made by Douglas Sirk, you can expect glamorous gowns, gorgeous homes, beautiful scenery, and schmaltzy music. Crafting a drink that’s fitting for the elegant Helen is no small feat, but this lovely sipper seems like something she’d enjoy either sitting beside Lake Tahoe, or on the balcony of a Swiss chalet. While watching Magnificent Obsession, I recommend drinking this Saint Helen cocktail.

Saint Helen

1 ¼ oz Gold Rum

½ oz Velvet Falernum

¾ oz Lime Juice

½ oz Lillet Rosé

Champagne, to top

Lime twist

Put all the ingredients except champagne in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with champagne, and garnish with a lime twist.

Although I wouldn’t have immediately thought to pair Jane Wyman with Rock Hudson, somehow, their chemistry just works. I love them together in All That Heaven Allows, and I love them in this movie. Catfishing aside, it isn’t the worst thing in the world to become obsessed with doing good deeds for others- just maybe don’t wait until you’ve killed someone to start. Cheers!

American Beauty

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Image Credit: American Beauty, 1999

I’m not going to lie—this week was a challenge. Do I revisit a movie that was dubbed the Best Picture of 1999, a movie I really liked at the time, but have since abandoned after its star’s misdeeds made watching it an incredibly uncomfortable experience? American Beauty is a difficult film to write about in the year 2022 because it’s hard to reconcile my original opinion with an ever-evolving consciousness of cinema’s impact and responsibility. Nevertheless, if I’m going to look at the year 1999, I feel like I have to look at it warts-and-all. And by warts, I mean the casual acceptance (perhaps even, glamorization) of statutory rape. Dear lord, what were we thinking?

Here’s the thing—I still believe there are some great performances in this movie. I still adore the cinematography and score. I still enjoy the critique of the suburban middle class, and the way the ending unfolds like an episode of Dateline. It leaves us guessing about what comes next, which I find exciting. If I could only watch the brilliant Annette Bening in the role of a frustrated wife, mother, and realtor, I’d be watching this on repeat without hesitation. I want her to sell that house today, and the ensuing breakdown when she fails still reflects the tiny voice inside me that screams every time the thing I desperately wanted to achieve just doesn’t work out—you weak, stupid, baby. But American Beauty isn’t a one-woman show. It also features Kevin Spacey, in a role where we, the audience, are supposed to be rooting for him to turn his boring life around by seducing his daughter’s teenage friend. It isn’t cool now, it shouldn’t have been cool then, and shame on all of us who looked through his perverted lens and couldn’t see the trauma for the rose petals. I’m amazed that it took the star’s real-life crimes to wake us up to the problems with this character, but I can only assume we were distracted by Lester Burnham’s “Great Resignation” before it was a trend.

Maybe, like me, you’re curious and want to go down this rabbit hole one more time. If so, you will need a drink. Let’s celebrate Carolyn Burnham’s prize rose collection with this simple cocktail, tailor-made for easy refills. While watching American Beauty, I recommend drinking a Rosewater Gin & Tonic.

Rosewater Gin & Tonic

2 oz London Dry Gin

6 oz Fever Tree Tonic

3-4 drops Rosewater

Lime Slice

Rose Petal (for garnish)

Juniper berries (for garnish)

Combine ingredients in a highball glass over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a lime slice and rose petal.

I suppose this whole ordeal opens me up to thinking about my own tolerance for movies that have not stood the test of time. There are some I find easier to watch than others, and I can’t even explain why. But I think that complexity is true for a lot of us—we’re not perfect, and our understanding and reaction to painful histories is an ever-evolving process. However, I think having the space to examine things through a more critical lens, without judgment, is key to creating better content. We can’t move forward in a productive way without examining mistakes of the past. And in 1999, I’ll be the first to admit—I was wrong about American Beauty. Let’s not do this again.

The Sixth Sense

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Image Credit: The Sixth Sense, 1999

Cinema Sips has gone back in time to cover 1967, 1976, 1985, and now <drumroll please> I’m ready to party like it’s 1999! In my opinion, I’ve saved the best for last on my mini journey through late-20th century cinema. Maybe this is my favorite movie year because I was sixteen and impressionable at the time, or maybe it’s because the movies were SO DAMN GOOD. I’ve already covered many of my favorites (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Notting Hill, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc), but now I’m turning my attention to a few other films that made a hell of a lot of money, started a lot of conversations, and represented what audiences were most looking for at the time. Kicking things off is M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller, The Sixth Sense (Disc/Download).

I saw this movie with my dad during its initial theatrical release, and I remember him being decidedly pissed off by the ending. It was a bait-and-switch, overturning everything we thought we were watching for the last two hours. I believe his direct quote was, “Those JERKS!” But it was this very ending that made people keep talking about the movie, giving it box office staying power beyond any other psychological thriller at the time. Similar to Hitchcock’s Psycho, this movie about a young boy who sees ghosts lives and dies by its final ten minutes, and if anyone spoiled the twist before you had a chance to see it, I hope only bad things have happened to them over the ensuing twenty-three years. I’m not going to go into it here in case you’re very young or have been living under a rock, but what I will say is that Bruce Willis gives a career-highlight performance as the child psychologist tasked with helping a scared little boy (an adorable Haley Joel Osment), and Toni Collette has somehow aged backwards in the last several decades?? This goes to show that a dark lip color and heavy eye makeup did us no favors in the late ‘90s.

The thing about the ghosts in this movie is that they don’t actually know they’re dead. Similar to its charming rom-com counterpoint Ghost Town, spirits between worlds come to Haley Joel Osment in crisis, and he has to fix their problems in order to set them free. I know what you’re thinking—how do they not know they’re dead? Well, this is conveniently explained away as “they only see what they want to see.” I guess one of the things they turned a blind eye to was their obituary, but I’m not making the same mistake. While watching The Sixth Sense, I recommend drinking a classic Obituary cocktail.

Obituary

2 oz Gin

¼ oz Dry Vermouth

¼ oz Absinthe

Lemon twist

Pour ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until well combined, the strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I previously featured this cocktail as a pairing for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it’s just as lethal now as it was then. You need something strong and spirit-forward for this movie (see what I did there??) because you don’t want to end up like my dad, angry and bitter that M. Night Shyamalan pulled a fast one. Instead, you want to ease into this psychological mind-bender on a cloud of absinthe fumes, ready to be spooked and surprised. Cheers!

Out of Africa

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Image Credit: Out of Africa, 1985

Concluding my journey through 1985, I couldn’t resist a peek at the year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa (Disc/Download). Some might say this is not the best movie to watch when you’re already sweltering under a summer heat wave; however, I like to think of this as a how-to guide for surviving climate change—wear a lot of white linen, stock up on quinine, and make alfresco nighttime vinyl cocktail parties a thing.

Starring Meryl Streep as Karen von Blixen (the writer who would later go on to be published under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen) this is an epic tale of one woman’s struggle to live her best life, despite the incompetent men she’s forced to deal with on a daily basis. Sounds familiar, amiright ladies? Wealthy Karen signs herself up for a marriage-of-convenience that involves a ticket to Nairobi and a coffee farm she never really wanted. But still, she makes the best of it, forging a friendship with handsome safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford)- a friendship that later turns into a passionate romance. Confronted with war, fickle crops, male chauvinism, as well as a fun little bout of syphilis thanks to her deadbeat husband, Karen never loses her classy attitude. She’s all about crystal decanters, Victrola record players, Limoges, and fussy feminine decor, even while on safari. In other words, she basically invented glamping, and we should all bow down.

Because this movie is definitely not climate controlled, I think we need an icy cold beverage to get us through. There’s no greater summertime pleasure than a gin & tonic, so let’s combine the flavors of a G&T with Karen’s beleaguered coffee crop in this Spiked Coffee Tonic cocktail.

Spiked Coffee Tonic

1 oz Gin

1 ½ oz Espresso Cold Brew (canned)

2 oz Tonic

½ oz Brown Sugar Syrup (Combine 1:1 ratio brown sugar with water, blending until sugar is dissolved)

Dried Lemon Wheel (garnish)

Combine gin, cold brew, tonic, and syrup in a highball glass filled with large ice cubes. Stir until combined, then garnish with a dried lemon wheel.

It’s a little surprising to me that this won the Academy Award for Best Picture, given how lackluster the script is. But nevertheless, it’s worthwhile viewing, if only to watch Meryl master the Danish accent as well as those safari-chic fashions. Cheers!

Network

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Image credit: Network, 1976

If you live in America, you’re more than likely mad as hell right now. The question is whether you can take it anymore. As the mad prophet of UBS instructs us in this week’s 1976 classic Network (Disc/Download), open the window and scream. Listen to the screams of others.

If I had to pick one word to describe Network, that adjective would be ‘angry’. All the characters are angry about something (ratings, the general state of the world, market shares, etc.), and they do a lot of shouting about it. But the interesting thing is that these characters were angry about many of the same things in 1976 as we are today. News as entertainment is a problem we were warned about forty-six years ago, and now we’re seeing it play out in real time. Unfortunately, we no longer have a Howard Beale (Peter Finch) on the airwaves to get up from behind his desk and shine a spotlight on the corporate greed that fuels the television networks. Now we have something scarier—a whole generation of anchors whose only job is to shock, enrage, inflame, and pretend they’re doing the opposite. Diana Christensen would be so proud.

Veteran newsman Howard Beale and his colleague Max Schumacher (played terrifically by William Holden) start out the movie getting roaring drunk, before becoming passionate critics of a changing industry. For this week’s pairing, I used spicy Habanero peppers to infuse some Añejo tequila, resulting in the angriest of cocktails. While watching Network, I recommend drinking a Mad Prophet.

Mad Prophet

2 oz Habanero-infused Añejo tequila (let tequila soak with peppers for at least 1 hr, then strain pepper out)

1 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Passion Fruit Syrup 

Combine tequila, orange juice, lime juice, and passion fruit syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a pepper slice.

Network is a dark satire of television journalism that only gets darker as time drags on, letting us see the effects that pandering to our most racist, sexist, darkest tendencies can have on a group of people. And if that doesn’t make you mad as hell, then you’re not paying attention.

Taxi Driver

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Image credit: Taxi Driver, 1976

Continuing through the year 1976, I can’t not make a stop at Taxi Driver (Disc/Download). In addition to serving as a fantastic time capsule of the period, Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus forever changed filmmaking, as well as our perception of the hero/antihero.

It’s hard to say what my opinion of this movie would have been if I hadn’t already been confronted with the concept of mass shooting from the age of sixteen, well before I ever saw DeNiro turn to the mirror and ask, “You talkin’ to me?” For by the time I got to college and actually watched this, it was too late. The image of a disturbed individual (or two, in the case of Columbine), walking into a crowded area, armed with hidden guns under a baggy coat, had already been implanted by news reports. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t find this scenario entertaining in a movie, even when it’s the phenomenal Robert DeNiro playing the tortured white male who just can’t deal. Maybe we’re supposed to relate to his character of Travis Bickle, a man who came home from Vietnam to a crumbling New York City, its sidewalks piled high with trash and sin, who feels out of place and aimless. Maybe we’re supposed to understand why he’d basically stalk Cybill Shepherd, then a teenaged Jodi Foster, as though he’s the one man who can save them from the big bad city. Sure, the climax and the night rides are beautifully shot, sometimes achingly so, but I can’t get over the simple fact that this guy who feels powerless thinks the solution is to take away power from others by any violent means necessary. That doesn’t make him a hero in my book, despite how good his abs look.

A common refrain from Travis is that he wants someone to come in and clean up the city. He drives through the streets of Manhattan, and all he sees is literal and figurative garbage. So while you’re watching Taxi Driver, lean into the theme with this Dirty Manhattan.

Dirty Manhattan

2 oz Rye Whiskey

1 oz Dry Vermouth

A few dashes Angostura Bitters

Green Olive

Stir together rye, vermouth, and bitters over ice until chilled. Strain into a martini glass, and garnish with a green olive.

Taxi Driver is one of those movies I think everyone should see, but only once. I personally don’t need the reminder that the world is a burning trash fire with no hope of anybody actually doing anything to change it; all I have to do is read the latest headlines. But nevertheless, I still feel the need to toast Marty Scorsese—he put his heart, and his beard into this one. Cheers!

Rocky

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Image Credit: Rocky, 1976

As much as I’d love to stay in 1967 forever, we must be moving on to a new decade this week- the 1970s! I’ve examined several individual years from this time period, and as far as I’m concerned, the real standout is 1976. We had everything from Jodi Foster in Freaky Friday to Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver, and let’s not forget ’70s MVP Dustin Hoffman, who came out with Marathon Man and All the President’s Men that year. That’s a lot of men! But the movie that’s endured the test of time, despite a never-ending string of subpar sequels and reboots, is the Sylvester Stallone classic Rocky (Disc/Download).

I have a real soft spot for sports movies, particularly underdog sports movies. Rudy, The Bad News Bears (another 1976 gem!), Slap Shot, and this tale of the Italian Stallion going fifteen rounds with Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed. But what draws me even further into Rocky is the tender romance between the boxer and shy pet store employee Adrian (Talia Shire). The heat between these two when he brings her back to his place to meet his turtles- yowza! Indeed, it’s those human moments of the athlete, sandwiched between training montage clips and bloody eyelids that make this movie something you want to watch again and again. By the end, nobody really cares whether Rocky Balboa wins or loses; we care whether or not his enormous heart is still intact.

Speaking of training, Rocky’s raw egg breakfast is still enough to turn my stomach, even though I put egg whites in my cocktails all the time. Something about that yolk dropping into a glass- blech! Let’s make cocktail hour a little more palatable by celebrating Rocky’s Italian roots with this Campari Sour.

Campari Sour

2 oz Gin

1 oz Campari

1 oz Lemon Juice

3/4 oz Simple Syrup

1 Egg White

Dash of Orange Bitters

Orange Wheel Garnish

Fill a glass with ice and set aside. Combine gin, Campari, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, and bitters in a shaker, and shake for about 10-15 seconds until frothy. Add ice, and shake for an additional 10 seconds. Strain into prepared glass, and top with orange wheel garnish.

One thing I’ve noticed in 1970s movies is that the sheen of Hollywood perfection seems to have fallen away. There’s suddenly layers of trash on those city sidewalks, and you’re not sure but you think the actors might be wearing their own clothes. Gone are the Edith Head gowns and MGM musical backdrops to transport us away- instead, we see the world as it really was. By grounding Rocky in 1970s Philadelphia, the boxer becomes just another guy down the block, who you’ve maybe seen at the pet store or the laundromat, but who is suddenly on the cusp of greatness. And if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. Cheers!

Wait Until Dark

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Image credit: Wait Until Dark, 1967

Word of warning: DO NOT watch this movie right before bedtime. I made this mistake, and now my days of walking through a dark house in search of a midnight snack or bottle of water are over. If you’ve come to expect humor and lightness in your Audrey Hepburn flicks, Wait Until Dark (Disc/Download) will defy all your expectations—in the best possible way.

Starring Audrey as blind housewife Susy Hendrix, the story begins with a drug smuggling operation wherein a doll stuffed with heroin is unwittingly passed to Susy’s photographer husband at an airport. Soon afterward, he goes off on assignment again, leaving her alone with the doll. Three con-artists attempt to gain entrance into Susy’s apartment, cooking up an elaborate scheme to make her earn their trust, but eventually, she realizes these men are not who they say they are, and in a completely terrifying climax scene, blind Susy turns out the lights and levels the playing field. Or rather, the killing field. Because among her tormentors is one very young Alan Arkin, with an accent like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Lenny Bruce, and a look straight out of an Oasis music video. He’s smart, he’s sadistic, and he will make you afraid to go near your fridge ever again.

With a doll being the thing that sets this plot in motion, it seems appropriate to drink a cocktail fit for Madame Alexander’s. While watching Wait Until Dark, I recommend drinking a Satin Doll.

Satin Doll

2 oz Brandy

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz Pineapple Juice

1/2 oz Lemon Juice

Pineapple Chunk

Lemon Twist

Combine Brandy, Cointreau, and pineapple and lemon juice in a shaker over ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with fresh pineapple and lemon twist.

An unexpectedly great find on my list of 1967 releases, this movie would eventually earn Hepburn a Best Actress nomination and go on to terrify audiences for decades to come. If you’re looking for a smart, adult thriller, it’s time to turn off the lights and hit play on Wait Until Dark. Cheers!

In the Heat of the Night

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Image credit: In the Heat of the Night, 1967

What makes a movie ‘great’? And how can so many ‘great’ movies come out in the same year; movies which have seemingly little to do with each other? For the next few months on Cinema Sips, I’ll be searching for answers to these questions by examining four movies from a particularly pivotal year in the second half of the 20th century. Inspiration for this project comes from the books Pictures at a Revolution: The Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris, as well as Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery (two fantastic reads if you’re interested in film studies). Cinema Sips will be covering the years 1967, 1976, 1985, and 1999, and depending on the popularity (and my interest in this project), I may continue into the 21st century, or go back to the early days of cinema. But today, like George Lucas, I feel like starting in the middle. Kicking things off is In the Heat of the Night (Disc/Download), a police-procedural drama that feels all too contemporary fifty-five years later.

Starring cinema icon Sidney Poitier as a Philadelphia detective sent to Mississippi to assist with a murder investigation, In the Heat of the Night is both mystery and tense racial drama. As a black man in the Deep South, Poitier confronts ignorant cops who can’t accept the fact that he’s “one of them”, as well as backward-thinking plantation owners and townsfolk who just want to scare him into returning home. As usual, Sidney is calm and cool in the face of abysmal treatment, making the people surrounding him look like complete idiots. I’ll admit, I didn’t know exactly who the killer was until right when the script wanted me to, which is always refreshing in a mystery. And maybe that was the strength of this movie—it was never about a murder, a one-and-done event, but rather, the ongoing struggle of prejudice and overt oppression in that part of the country. Half a century later and I’m still saying, WTF, Mississippi??!! (and WTF, Alabama, and WTF, Texas, and WTF, Florida…. you get the idea).

This movie, similar to another 1967 release Cool Hand Luke, is an extremely sweaty one. Rod Steiger looks like he’s been sitting in a sauna for most of it, and the title doesn’t help matters- you can practically feel the sun still radiating off the pavement at one o’clock in the morning. That’s why, while watching In the Heat of the Night, I recommend drinking an icy cool Left-handed Lemonade.

Left-handed Lemonade

1 ½ oz Bourbon

8 oz Lemonade

½ oz Fresh Lemon Juice

Fresh Basil

Lemon slice (garnish)

Muddle a few basil leaves with lemon juice in the bottom of a shaker. Add ice, bourbon, and lemonade, and shake for about five seconds. Strain into a highball filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a basil leaf and lemon slice.

In the Heat of the Night would later be turned into a TV show starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard E. Rollins, the theme song of which would be my cue to turn the television off after Brady Bunch reruns. Sweaty men standing over a dead body on the asphalt didn’t do it for me as a small child. But apparently, Sidney “They call me Mr. Tibbs” Poitier, and refreshing cocktails are all it takes to make me want to sit and watch as an adult. Cheers!