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Category Archives: Dramas

Eyes Wide Shut

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Eyes wide shut

Image credit: Eyes Wide Shut, 1999.

After 3 years of choosing Christmas films for Cinema Sips, I’ve reached my limit on festive family-friendly fare. If you’re looking for It’s a Wonderful Life or Love, Actually, you may want to scroll back a year or two. Since many of us currently feel like we’re living in a bizarre reality of “alternative facts” and a bleak future where The Day After Tomorrow is suddenly not so far-fetched…. Dystopian Christmas seems right. Kicking things off is Stanley Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut (DVD/Download). I don’t know which aspect of this disturbing movie makes my skin crawl more- the weird underground world of extravagant masked orgies, or a brief glimpse into the bedroom of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (*shudder*).

I think Stanley Kubrick himself must have been second-guessing Eyes Wide Shut as a Christmas movie. Why else would such a master of visual style put a garish Christmas tree in LITERALLY EVERY SCENE? Maybe that’s a good drinking game- take a sip every time you spot a tree with colored lights.  Too often, the dialogue between Cruise and Kidman seems to drag, like that fight you’ve had with your spouse that lasted about 2 hours longer than it should have. You know you’ve been saying the same thing for the last 45 minutes, but you just can’t stop. Maybe that’s both the problem, and point of this movie. Tom Cruise’s character stumbles onto a hidden Manhattan sex ring, tempting him away from his beautiful wife and child, but even after things turn sour, even after it becomes dangerous, he can’t quit his obsession. Kubrick was notorious for being a slowpoke auteur, and one wonders what changes he might have continued to make to the final cut of this film had he not died before its release. In the end we’re left with a powerful, beautiful, flawed product that’s just weird enough to be brilliant.

The true star of this film (in my opinion) is Nicole Kidman. Her character Alice is a complicated mess, torn between her desire for a stable family life and her illicit desires. Only when she becomes drunk or stoned do we see the real Alice emerge. Lit from behind in Kubrick’s indigo blue light, her pale skin seems otherworldly. While watching Eyes Wide Shut, I recommend drinking a Midnight Kiss.

Midnight Kiss

1oz Vodka

¼ oz Blue Curacao

1 tsp lemon juice

Champagne

Combine first three ingredients in a shaker filled with ice.  Stir until chilled, then strain into a champagne flute.  Top with chilled champagne, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Midnight Kiss

During this movie, Tom Cruise has quite possibly the longest night in the history of nights. He goes from fighting with his wife, to comforting a dead man’s family, to flirting with a beautiful prostitute, to having a drink in a jazz club, to buying a costume, to crashing an orgy, to hiding the evidence back home- all before sunrise. After awhile, you wonder how far past midnight, and normalcy, he’s ventured. Whether you view it as a dream or a nightmare, Eyes Wide Shut will make you realize that there are many things in life we’ll never fully understand.  The fun, and the frustration, is in the trying. Cheers!

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The Witches of Eastwick

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witches of eastwick

Image credit: Witches of Eastwick, 1987

You know that feeling you get when the end credits are rolling on a particularly bizarre film, and you just sit, unblinking, trying to make sense of the last two hours? Such was my experience with The Witches of Eastwick (DVD/Download). Not having read any Updike before, including the novel this film was based on, I was wholly unprepared. What started out as a promising rom-com slowly morphed into a special-effects laden horror-fest, with a dash of surrealism. This one definitely needs some unpacking.

For the first twenty minutes, my take on The Witches of Eastwick was, “where has this movie been all my life???” Cher, Michelle Pheiffer, and Susan Sarandon sitting around, drinking martini’s, complaining about how there are no good men anymore- let’s just call this my ideal Saturday night.   They wish hard for the man of their dreams, not knowing that they’re actually a coven of witches.  Soon after, this mysterious stranger actually appears in the form of Jack Nicholson. And he’s a creep. And he has a teeny-tiny ponytail that’s distracting as hell. And he may or may not be the devil. But he has a mansion with an indoor pool, a healthy sexual appetite, and bowls of fresh cherries (we’ll get to that in a minute). So the three women do what dozens of Playboy Bunnies have done before and move in with the morally bankrupt old charmer. Despite a meandering plot and lack of character development, the performances of these three powerhouse actresses and the great Jack Nicholson basically playing Jack Nicholson, keep me watching long after the movie has gone down the proverbial drain.

One of the spells cast by the witches is a strange revenge on the local town prude. Instead of just poisoning her outright, Jack Nicholson urges his three girlfriends to eat pounds of cherries. Somehow this sanctimonious woman ends up with the cherry guts in HER stomach and well- things get messy. You’d think this would turn me off cherries for good, but I can’t resist that tart, sweet taste. Even better with some activated charcoal to make this the perfect Halloween cocktail. While watching The Witches of Eastwick, I recommend drinking a Black Cherry Martini.

Black Cherry Martini

1 ½ oz Vodka

½ oz Maraschino Liqueur

1 1/2 oz POM Cherry Juice

1/4 oz Lime Juice

1/4 tsp Activated Charcoal Powder

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

There’s definitely a lot to like about The Witches of Eastwick, and if you’re looking for a fun adult Halloween movie this year, this one is close to the top of my list. Despite the truly weird final act, it’s still fun to watch three women take a dance with the devil in the pale moonlight*. Cheers!

*wrong movie, still applies!

The Dreamers

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The Dreamers

Image credit: The Dreamers, 2003

Prone to expressing themselves through movie quotes, cinephiles are easy to spot. Even when they get into a contest over who has seen which obscure film, you know it’s only due to pure enthusiasm for the medium. Thus when I saw The Dreamers (DVD/Download), these characters instantly felt like kindred spirits. Sure, director Bernardo Bertolucci takes things a little too far with his sexually explicit style, but at the core of the film there is a deep love for all things cinema.

Starring Michael Pitt, Eva Green, and Louis Garrel, The Dreamers is set in Paris during the 1968 student riots. It was this era of turmoil, artistic expression, and youthful energy that fueled a cultish devotion to the Cinémathèque Française, the organization upon which all modern film criticism and preservation is based. Seen through the eyes of an American student, Paris seems exciting, revolutionary, and slightly dangerous. By connecting with two French twin cinephiles, his love of film is fostered even further. There are lengthy debates about Chaplin vs. Keaton, a recreation of the Louvre scene in Godard’s Bande à part, and a rather disturbing interaction with Marlene Dietrich’s Blonde Venus. By the time they start chanting “One of us!” (Freaks), I feel drawn in and consumed every bit as much as the naïve protagonist onscreen. These are my people, too.

For a dangerous, intruiguing, sexy film, only a similar sort of cocktail will do. The Sidecar is one of my favorite classic cocktails, the kind of thing that I could picture Dietrich drinking after a night at the Blue Angel. French liqueur Chambord pairs perfectly with the cognac in this drink, bringing it a lovely raspberry subtlety. While watching The Dreamers, I recommend drinking a Chambord Sidecar.

Chambord Sidecar

1 ½ oz Peach Brandy

¾ oz lemon juice

¾ oz Chambord

¼ oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.

It’s hard not be creeped out by the sexual tension between the two siblings in The Dreamers, and the film’s disappointing second half veers wildly off the rails.  But despite these flaws, the wild, anarchist feeling of Paris in the 60’s remains a constant drumbeat, reminding us that once upon a time, cinema had the power to start a revolution.  Maybe it still does. Cheers!

Peyton Place

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Peyton Place

Image credit: Peyton Place, 1957

I’m a sucker for vintage New England, so naturally this week’s film Peyton Place (DVD/Download) is right up my Episcopalian-and-lobster-roll-alley. Though it would later be turned into a hit TV soap opera, the film adaptation of the Grace Metalious novel is pretty soapy on its own. Teenage sex; adultery; abortion; murder in front of the Christmas tree- pretty scandalous stuff even now, let alone in the 1950s. But what I love about this film (in addition to Lana Turner’s wardrobe) is that it doesn’t feel dated.  Rather, it succeeds in shining a light on social issues we’re still dealing with today.

Set in the sleepy New England town of Peyton Place just before World War II breaks out, the film follows teenage characters as they struggle with the prudish views of their parents. Lana Turner rants about how sex ed shouldn’t be taught in schools, yet she refuses to talk to her own daughter about it at home, thus pushing her away. Cute little Russ Tamblyn plays a Norman Bates-type henpecked boy whose own mother is even worse. Did Hitchcock use Tamblyn’s Norman as inspiration? I have to wonder. The film leaves it to the town doctor and the high school principal to educate the rest of the community on their backwards thinking, and I just want to stand up and cheer anytime these men are onscreen. Finally, someone in this film is using common sense and science to make a compelling argument, societal backlash be damned.

Lana Turner does a brilliant job in her role as a supreme ice queen, causing the men in the town to shy away for fear of “frostbite”. She’s buttoned up, beautiful, and sardonic- a classic film icon if I’ve ever seen one. While watching Peyton Place, celebrate Ms. Turner with an Ice Queen cocktail.

Ice Queen

Cucumber slice

1 1/2 oz light rum

¾ oz lime juice

½ oz simple syrup

1 tsp crème de menthe

2 oz prosecco

Lime twist

Muddle cucumber at the bottom of a cocktail shaker with the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Add ice and crème de menthe. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with prosecco, and garnish with a lime twist.

Ice Queen

By the end of the film, I’m still marveling to myself that the battles being waged onscreen are still the same ones we’re fighting today. Should sex ed be taught in schools? Should abortion be legal in cases of rape and incest (and any other damn time it’s a bad situation)? Are churches doing a disservice by preaching abstinence-only? The film comes down pretty hard on the left (as do I) but I find it depressing to realize that after 70 years we’re STILL fighting about these things. All I can say is, pass the rum. Cheers!

Pearl Harbor

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Pearl Harbor

Image credit: Pearl Harbor, 2001

“It is hard to remember what we came to remember.”

Joan Didion may have been writing about her own experience visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial, however she may as well have been talking about the Bruckheimer/Bay disaster pic Pearl Harbor (DVD/Download). After 3 hours, only one of which was actually about the attack on Pearl Harbor, I struggled to recall why I’d pressed “play” in the first place.

If the filmmakers were trying to capture a Casablanca tone of romance during wartime, I’m not sure they succeeded. Same goes for accurately conveying the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But if the goal was to create a showcase for pyrotechnics, special effects, and cheesy lines, consider this film a rousing success. I’m not sure that I expected much, given that it stars a very tan, blonde Ben Affleck before he got his sh*t together, but still- his tepid love triangle with Kate Beckinsale and Josh Harnett was pretty disappointing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing the cavalcade of cameos by actors who are SO much better than this movie. Michael Shannon! Alec Baldwin! Ewen Bremner! Cuba Gooding Jr.! (well, okay maybe Cuba belonged in this).

One thing that makes the long flight to Hawaii worthwhile is the fresh pineapple waiting on the other end. Well, that and all the tiki drinks. I’ve already featured Midori and vodka in another post about a doomed ship, so this week I’m putting a Honolulu spin on it. While watching Pearl Harbor, I recommend drinking a Tiki-tini.

Tiki-tini

1 ½ oz vodka

¾ oz Midori

4 oz chilled Pineapple juice

Pineapple chunk

Shake well over ice to chill, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with pineapple chunk.

I can say without a doubt that this historic tragedy deserves a lot better than a Michael Bay schlock fest. Luckily, we have Tora! Tora! Tora! and that really great pilot episode of The Twilight Zone (“The Time Element”) to fill in the gaps. I encourage you to check out these titles, and if you have the means, go see the Arizona Memorial in person. But, to quote Alec Baldwin, “Leave your goddamn hula shirts at home.” Cheers!

The Descendants

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the descendants

Image credit: The Descendants, 2011

Hawaii Month continues with a modern look at island culture, the 2011 Alexander Payne film The Descendants (DVD/Download). Shot on Oahu and Kauai, and starring George Clooney as a man trying to hold his family together, this film leaves you with a sense that you just saw Real Hawaii, and not the postcard version.

Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants weaves a tale about family drama past and present. Matt King is a descendant of Hawaii’s Royal Family, and just as he and his cousins prepare to sell off the last of their ancestral land for major profits, his estranged wife slips into a coma following a boating accident. Through it all, Clooney is a simmering cauldron in Hawaiian shirts, and I spend the movie waiting for him to blow. Nobody does a withering take-down like Clooney, and his skewering of his wife’s lover, played by Matthew Lillard, (*side note: HOW did Matthew Lillard land an Alexander Payne film??) is classic. Also, I’m not sure what to think about a woman who cheats on George Clooney with Matthew Lillard. While I buy a lot of the “real Hawaii” in this film, I don’t buy that.

As we all know by now (or maybe just those of us who read People magazine), George Clooney has gone from Hollywood actor to tequila mogul. He and his BFF Randy Gerber make one hell of a spirit, so I think it’s high time we feature it on Cinema Sips. While watching The Descendants, I recommend drinking an Añejo Old Fashioned*.

Añejo Old Fashioned

3 oz Casamigos Añejo tequila

1/8 oz agave nectar

4-5 dashes Mole bitters (I used Fee Bros. Aztec Chocolate bitters)

Orange peel

Combine liquid ingredients in a glass over ice and stir gently to chill. Strain into a glass with a large ice cube.  Run a flame over the peel of an orange to release the oils, and drop into the glass.

*Recipe adapted from the fabulous book, Tequila Cocktails.

Anejo Old Fashioned

While I don’t love this movie as much as Payne’s other films such as Sideways and Election, it definitely grows on me with repeat viewings. I notice the subtlety of Clooney’s performance, and the beautiful way in which the script celebrates old and new Hawaii. So many of the islands’ traditions have been lost in the face of progress, but the bond of family isn’t one of them. In The Descendants, we’re reminded of what ties us to a place, and to each other. Cheers!

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

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Dirty Dancing Havana Nights

Image credit: Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, 2004

I’m not going to pretend that this sequel holds a candle to the original Dirty Dancing. I don’t care what re-makes or sequels come down the pipeline, there will never be another Patrick Swayze. However- if you’re looking for a fun film with fabulous vintage clothes, gorgeous Cuban aesthetic, and the ever-adorable Diego Luna, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (DVD/Download) has you covered. Plus- bonus Swayze cameo!

In the same spirit of the original, Havana Nights follows a “good girl” who falls in love with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Katey can’t stand the entitled American jerks of her own social set, so when a cute Cuban waiter rescues her from the mean streets of Havana, she jumps at the chance to befriend him and spice up her ballroom dancing with some Latin moves. Even Patrick Swayze pops up as the hotel’s dance instructor, in a strange Johnny Castle time-warp. But even 17 years later, he’s still got the moves.

I’ve already featured the recipe for a classic mojito with the much-more-authentic revolution film I Am Cuba, as well as a watermelon sandia with the original Dirty Dancing. So why not combine the two? While watching Dirty Dancing Havana Nights, I recommend drinking a Watermelon Mojito.

Watermelon Mojito

2-3 Fresh watermelon cubes

2 oz white rum

Fresh mint leaves

2 tsp sugar

1 oz lime juice

Club Soda

Muddle watermelon, sugar, lime juice, and mint in the bottom of a glass. Add rum, then top with club soda. Stir gently to combine.

Watermelon Mojito

I’ll admit, this movie is mainly just a great excuse to ogle Diego Luna and drink mojitos. And damn if that Wyclef Jean song isn’t just as catchy as “Time of My Life”. Now that Americans can finally visit Cuba again, it might be time to dust off my Spanish and figure out the visa situation. But only if I can dance like a gringa and yell “Cooba!”  Cheers!