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Category Archives: Dramas

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!

Insomnia

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Image Credit: Insomnia, 2002

If you’re like me, the pandemic years really messed with your sleep. Watching the film Insomnia (Disc / Download), I can relate to Al Pacino with his glassy stares and confused expressions because they’re mine. What day is it? Did I wash the conditioner out of my hair? Did I leave too many loose ends hanging on a crime I committed while delirious from lack of rest? Things I ask myself on a daily basis now.

A tight psychological thriller directed by Christopher Nolan, Insomnia stars Al Pacino as Will Dormer, a hot shot LA detective sent to Alaska to work a teenage girl’s homicide case. He’s got his own internal affairs investigation percolating back in California, but for now, he’s focused on the task at hand: find the murderer. Things get muddled when he accidentally shoots his partner, and the only witness is the killer he’s searching for. Thus begins a cat and mouse game of trying to nail the bad guy while still protecting his own secrets. Robin Williams turns in an elegant, terrifying performance as pulp novelist Walter Finch, whose real-life crimes are even more twisted than those in his books, and seeing Pacino and Williams together is akin to watching Michelangelo and DaVinci working side-by-side. Hilary Swank does her best to not get lost in their shadows, playing a local detective trying to solve crimes while magnanimously shaking off Dormer’s misogynist language. Her name isn’t “honey”—it’s Detective Burr. Learn it, Dormer.

Although there are a lot of tense scenes in this film, one of the best is set in a remote Alaskan fishing cabin shrouded in fog. As police officers chase the murderer through soupy air, visibility is about as low as the chances of making it out there alive. While watching Insomnia, I recommend drinking a Fog Cutter cocktail.

Fog Cutter

2 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Orgeat

1 ½ oz White Rum

½ oz Gin

½ oz Brandy

½ oz Amontillado sherry

Citrus wheel garnish, or fresh mint

Combine orange juice, lemon juice, orgeat, rum, gin, and brandy in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a tiki mug filled with ice. Float sherry on top, and garnish with a citrus wheel and/or mint.

Part of Dormer’s problem throughout this movie is that the summer sun never sets on this northern town. He can try to block the light out in his motel room as best he can, but like truth, it always manages to seep in. Thus when sleep comes, and it does finally come, it’s a hard won relief. Cheers!

Chocolat

Image credit: Chocolat, 2000

Happy Valentine’s Day to all you Cinema Sips readers! Since the marketing machines want to fill us with chocolate today, I decided to lean into it with the delightful Lasse Hallström gem, Chocolat (Disc/Download). Honestly, I’m more of a sour gummies gal myself, but damned if this movie doesn’t have me rooting around in the kitchen for some leftover Lindor truffles or hell, even an opened bag of chocolate chips. Bring on the cocoa, tout suite!

Starring Juliette Binoche as chocolatiere Vianne Rocher, this begins almost like Mary Poppins, with a north wind bringing an unconventional woman and her magic chocolate ways to a small, buttoned-up French village. She wears cute, colorful 1950s dresses, and (heaven-forbid) red shoes– ALERT THE MAYOR! In opening her Mayan chocolate shop, she brings pleasure and connection to people who have been ruled by piety and fear for far too long. But in doing so, she opens herself and her young daughter up to those same connections, making it harder for them to leave on the gust of the next north wind. She meets her equal in Johnny Depp’s traveling Irish musician, who for once hasn’t hid his face behind makeup and prosthetics, and let’s just say chile-dusted chocolate isn’t the only hot thing in this movie. A sweet story that still packs an emotional punch (thanks, Judi Dench), Chocolat is like the perfect truffle- sweet, a little bitter, with a creamy center that melts in your mouth.

Speaking of chocolate treats, I decided to try my hand at Vianne’s Mayan hot chocolate. Although my instant cocoa is probably no match for hers, this recipe still warms you in the best of ways. While watching Chocolat, I recommend drinking this Spiked Mayan Hot Chocolate.

Spiked Mayan Hot Chocolate

1 packet Dark Chocolate instant powder

3 oz Water

3 oz Milk

2 oz Sotol

1/2 oz Chocolate Liqueur

1/4 tsp Chili Powder

1/4 tsp Cinnamon

3 dashes Aztec chocolate bitters

Cinnamon Stick garnish

Combine all ingredients in a pan on the stovetop, stirring until warm and combined. Pour into a mug and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Vianne claims her hot chocolate has no booze, to which Judi Dench’s eccentric Armande calls bullshit, but I have no problem admitting to jazzing my cup up with some Sotol, a delicious cousin of Mezcal. Whether you like your chocolate spiked or not, this recipe will make you feel like you’re sitting in the Chocolaterie Maya, gossiping over mugs of warm goodness and a slice of cake, all made with pure love. Cheers!

Ghost

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Image credit: Ghost, 1990

We all know the infamous scene. Patrick Swayze spoons Demi Moore with his body as she’s throwing a pot on the wheel, unapologetically ruining her hard work, but it’s okay because he’s PATRICK-freaking-SWAYZE. “Unchained Melody” plays in the background as their hands get messy with wet clay, and the foreplay quickly heats up. Ghost (Disc/Download) is a romantic, sexy film, but it’s also so much more than that. Paranormal thriller, murder mystery, comedy, heist—this one straddles genres like Demi straddles that wheel, and I dare you to find the person who doesn’t like at least something about this movie.

Meanwhile, there are those (okay, me) who like everything about this movie. The heartfelt romance between Swayze and Moore’s characters, the sweet friendship ghost-Patrick finds in the unlikeliest of places with psychic Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), the twisty-turny murder plot, and yes, even the special effects. Although nowhere near as polished as what we’d see today, for 1990 they were fairly impressive. And let’s not forget the script, which only hits harder with each passing year. Now that I know what it feels like to lose a loved one, I understand the desperation in these characters in a way I couldn’t have thirty years ago. They’d give anything for one more second, one more touch, one last opportunity to say what they’re feeling. This movie isn’t selling love, or redemption, or revenge, but rather… hope. Hope that “one more second” is possible.

I know a lot of people don’t believe in ghosts, but I am not among them. In fact, I have one that haunts my home bar (no joke). Swizzle sticks have moved on their own, ice tongs have clattered to the ground, and the dog once growled at a bottle of Cointreau like it was a poltergeist. So let’s celebrate my inebriated invisible friend with this silver-toned tiki cocktail, the Ghost Orchid.

Ghost Orchid

2 oz Silver Demerara Rum

¾ oz Lime Juice

¾ oz Pineapple Juice

½ oz Crème de Violette

½ oz Orgeat

Lime wheel and orchid flower for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a hurricane glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a fresh orchid and dried lime wheel.

As someone who is married to a potter, I can tell you the wheel scene is not as sexy as it appears. They don’t show the clay-splattered laundry, the dust tracks all over the floor, or the never-ending piles of cups and saucers littering the kitchen counter. But you know what is sexy? A person who can make something with their hands, who sees what others can’t. Who sees the potential, the hope, even in a wet ball of mud. Because maybe, that person sees the same hope in you too. Cheers!

Cool Hand Luke

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Image Credit: Cool Hand Luke, 1967

I’ve never been a fan of movies featuring dusty, sweaty actors, but when that movie contains Paul Newman and his impressive abs, all bets are off. Cool Hand Luke (Disc/Download) is an ironic title for a movie about an extremely hot man in an extremely hot place, but I’ve since realized there are a lot of ways to be cool. Leave it to this icon to school us.

I suppose winter is a great time to watch a film about a sweltering prison camp in the Deep South because you’ll really want to stick your head in a snowbank after Luke’s forth or fifth trip to “the box”. I don’t know what I expected going into this, but it wasn’t a Shawshank-esque tale of a maligned prisoner rising up against his sadistic guards. Frankly, I didn’t know work camps like this existed in the prison system after WWII. Paul Newman is perfect in his role as the smart, charismatic Luke because the viewer falls under his spell right along with his fellow prisoners. We believe that Luke is the one guy who can escape this hellhole because his smile, his zen attitude, his tenacity in an egg-eating competition tells us so. He doesn’t have much in the world, but he’s got the one thing that matters—grit.

Speaking of eggs, I’ll admit I had a hard time watching Luke chow down on fifty of the hard-boiled variety, his abs slowly disappearing under a sulfurous cloud of bloat. I like eggs, particularly in a cocktail, but only in moderation. While watching Cool Hand Luke, enjoy this classic egg-white cocktail, the Rum Sour.

Rum Sour

2 oz dark rum

¾ oz Lemon Juice

¾ oz Maple Syrup

1 Egg White

Combine rum, lemon juice, maple syrup, and egg white in a shaker without ice. Shake vigorously for ten seconds, then add ice. Shake for another thirty seconds to chill, then strain into a coupe glass.

With a strong supporting cast that includes Academy Award winner George Kennedy, Dennis Hopper, and Harry Dean Stanton, this classic film is one I wished I’d watched sooner. Don’t let the dust and sweat turn you off—this is a damn cool flick. Cheers!

An Affair to Remember

Image credit: An Affair to Remember, 1957

If, like me, you’ve run out of Douglas Sirk films to watch, yet still feel the powerful pull of the melodrama, look no further than this week’s Cinema Sips pick An Affair to Remember (Disc/Download). With its beautiful 1950s gowns, sappy dialogue (“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories…”), and romantic cruise ship setting, Leo McCarey has picked up where Sirk left off. Just let me grab my fur stole and champagne coupe- it’s time to set sail.

Starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr as star-crossed lovers who randomly meet on a European voyage, this film has me yearning for the days when cruising the high seas meant high fashion and sophisticated cocktails instead of buffet lines and Legionnaire’s. Kerr’s stateroom is MASSIVE, like a perfect mid-century modern time capsule, and it’s a wonder she leaves the room at all. But of course, she must leave it if she’s going to bump into the suave Cary Grant, playing American playboy Nickie Ferrante, who has one foot down the alter and another in a starving artist’s loft. He “paints pictures” the way Rock Hudson “renovates barns” in All That Heaven Allows, but I guess it doesn’t matter what hobby you turn to when you’re that good looking. People will buy whatever it is he’s selling.

Because Nickie’s family roots are in a villa along the French Riviera, I’m bringing in some Mediterranean flavors with this festive drink. While watching An Affair to Remember, I recommend drinking a Pink Champagne Life cocktail.

Pink Champagne Life

1 oz fresh-squeezed Clementine juice

4 oz Pink Champagne

2 dashes Orange Bitters

1 Sprig Rosemary

1 Clementine peel

Add clementine juice, champagne, and bitters to a coupe, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and clementine peel.

Although parts of this movie take place at Christmas, I’ve struggled to define it as a “Christmas Movie”. I suppose if you’re looking for an excuse to drink more champagne around the holidays, you may as well pop this one in. After all, Cary always looks great near a Christmas tree. Cheers!

The Cider House Rules

Image credit: The Cider House Rules, 1999

When cider season rolls around, my mind usually drifts to Tobey Maguire learning the apple-picking ropes in this week’s film The Cider House Rules (Disc/Download). If you love cozy New England scenery, precocious orphans, and pro-reproductive rights messaging, then this one’s for you.

In a rare case of the movie being as good as the book it was based on, The Cider House Rules benefits greatly from a screenplay written by the author. I love a story with complex characters, moral dilemmas, and tightly woven plots, so naturally I’m a lifelong fan of John Irving’s work. He finds a way to make controversial subjects accessible and relatable, and this film is no exception. Yes, it covers some tough topics, but still manages to feel like a comfy sweater. Maybe it’s Michael Caine’s homespun Maine accent, or the sprawling ramshackle orphanage, or the shots of Charlize Theron in a wool coat hauling in lobster traps, or our newly crowned Sexiest Man Alive Paul Rudd in a dashing military uniform, but I feel like this movie gives us plenty of sugar to counteract the bitterness of life. And boy is there a lot to be bitter about in Homer’s world, and in ours.

Now, back to the cider. I personally love a dry, crisp variety as I watch the leaves fall outside, or when I put on a slow-jam Erykah Badu record. You could certainly pick a favorite brew to enjoy while you watch this film, but if you want to turn it into a cocktail, let me suggest this Rose’s Rules highball. 

Rose’s Rules

6 oz Dry Cider (I used Texas Keeper No. 1)

1 oz Ginger Liqueur

½ oz Lemon Juice

2 drops Rosewater

Apple Peel garnish

Combine ginger liqueur, lemon juice, and rosewater in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then add cider. Do a gentle roll to mix the ingredients, then strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with an apple peel twisted into a rose.

As you watch Homer Wells embark on his hero’s journey, take note of how he’s a man of principle, yet open to change. He has empathy and heart, which serves him well in any environment, from orphanages to orchards to operating rooms. A true prince of Maine; king of New England. Cheers!