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Category Archives: Dramas

Cleopatra

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Image Credit: Cleopatra, 1963

I hope you stocked up on alcohol this week because Cleopatra (Disc/Download) is a real endurance test. It’ll take at least a few refills to carry you through a runtime of over four hours—and this is the short cut! If the director’s cut ever gets released, you’ll need a barge to carry all your liquor home.

Insane length aside, this is actually an incredibly sexy movie. History buffs will enjoy the scenes of Ancient Rome and Egypt, but personally, I’m here for the sizzling chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. “Liz and Dick” caused quite the scandal when their onscreen love story moved off-screen, but having now sat through hours worth of footage, it appears their romance was almost inevitable. How could Burton possibly resist Taylor in those cleavage-baring costumes? How could she not want to climb his muscular legs like a tree? It was always a question of when, not if. The film’s plot is interesting, if a little meandering, but if you enjoy a cornucopia of wigs, pink shag bedrooms, opulent baths, and the haughty attitude of Elizabeth Taylor in glittery eye shadow, you will not be disappointed.

Speaking of Taylor, this gal likes her gold. From boats to drinkware, Miss Cleo doesn’t skimp on the opulence. Celebrate her majesty with this gold-flecked drink, perfect for a Baccus-themed party. While watching Cleopatra, I recommend drinking a Golden Girl cocktail.

Golden Girl

4 oz Dry White Wine

1 oz Gin

½ oz Honey Rosemary Syrup (1/2 cup honey + 1/2 cup water + 3 sprigs rosemary, simmered then cooled)

½ oz Lemon Juice

2 ½ oz Club Soda

Pinch of edible glitter

Sprig of Rosemary for Garnish

Combine wine, gin, honey syrup, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, and a pinch of edible glitter. Stir to combine, then garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

I will admit, it took me over two days to get through this movie. I was so alarmed by the sight of Archie Bunker stabbing Ceasar in the back that I needed a break. However, once Antony and Cleopatra began their epic romance, I was officially hooked. This turkey may be all breasts and thighs, but those parts sure are delicious. Cheers!

Catch Me If You Can

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Image Credit: Catch Me If You Can, 2002

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away… to the glamorous world of 1960s air travel and check forgery. In this week’s film Catch Me if You Can (Disc/Download), our old pal Leo plays a teenage con artist posing as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a Louisiana attorney, all before his nineteenth birthday. The actor himself was around twenty-seven during the filming of this movie, so I ask you, who’s the biggest con man here?

In this pseudo-biographical tale of Frank Abagnale, Steven Spielberg has crafted a fun cat-and-mouse caper where bedraggled FBI agent (Tom Hanks) must devote hours of time and money toward catching a brilliant young criminal with daddy issues. Ultimately, Frank’s crimes don’t really harm anyone (other than the airline CEOs and bankers, I suppose), but nevertheless, the US Government can’t just let this kid run around, hopping on jets, sleeping with flight attendants, and advising on medical emergencies with whatever training he could glean from a few Dr. Kildaire episodes. I concur—this teenage runaway’s high times should probably come to an end. But boy, it’s a fun ride until that day comes.

If you were lucky enough to travel on PanAm during the 1960s, well then, you were lucky enough. I was unfortunately not born yet, but I can still celebrate the stylish, jet-set era with this tasty cocktail. While watching Catch Me If You Can, I recommend drinking a Paper Plane.

Paper Plane

¾ oz Bourbon

¾ oz Aperol

¾ oz Amaro Nonino

¾ oz Lemon Juice

Lemon Twist

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

An enjoyable movie that never lets itself get overly bogged down with the main character’s psychological trauma, this is a great pick if you just want to watch a smart guy do some mildly bad things, in a world where everyone looked amazing. And let’s not forget Tom Hanks’ Boston accent, the real MVP of this movie. It’s still working hard, long after retirement age. Cheers!

Inception

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Image credit: Inception, 2010

Let’s not pretend any of us truly understand this week’s pick, Inception (Disc/Download). Sure, we may have a vague idea of the general plot, but director Christopher Nolan, ultimate master of cinema magic tricks, has crafted a film so full of misdirection and ambiguity that it’s impossible to know what’s real and what’s an illusion. So let’s just pour a drink and follow along as best we can.

As far as I can tell, this film is about dreams and the people who infiltrate them. The goal is to plant an idea that will then take root and manifest as change in the real world, without the sleeping victim being any the wiser. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a dream manipulator who is hired by a rich tycoon to go inside his rival’s mind and lead him toward dissolving his business. Aided by a team of Nolan regulars (including Tom Hardy in a role where he actually has a chance to show off that pretty face!!!), Leo inserts himself into Cillian Murphy’s dream, then deeper to another layer, and deeper again, until he’s able to get to the root of what drives this man’s subconscious. So basically, it’s a dream, within a dream, within a dream, until the end when you realize the whole freakin’ movie might be a dream?! Am I in a dream right now?? Christopher Nolan has effectively made me question the very foundation of human existence.

In thinking about Inception as a cocktail, I realized that infusing alcohol can achieve a similar effect. You start with a base spirit, allow a spice or flavor to soak into it, leaving it forever changed. And with this cocktail, I’ve achieved double inception, going even deeper into that flavor profile. While watching Inception, I recommend drinking a Kick cocktail.

Kick

1 1/2 oz Cardamom/Coffee-infused Vodka*

3/4 oz Kahlua Liqueur

1/4 oz Maple Syrup

3 drops Rosewater

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

*To make Cardamom/Coffee Vodka, put six-seven Cardamom pods in a cup of vodka. Allow to infuse overnight. The next day, remove pods, then pour in two tablespoons of ground coffee. Allow to infuse overnight, then strain out solids through coffee filter.

One line from this movie stands out to me, particularly after a recent watch. DiCaprio says, “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” As I look around, at a vocal part of our society clutching so tightly to dangerous ideas at the expense of everyone around them and a rapidly evolving virus, this quote feels more timely than ever. What’s more insidious: COVID-19, or the denial of COVID-19? The temptation is understandable; the yearning to “wake up” and proclaim that all of 2020 and 2021 was just a bizarre subconscious state. An inception that forced us to appreciate the small things in life, like sitting in a diner booth, or meeting a friend for coffee, or flying to visit a parent. We’ll open our eyes, and the nightmare will be over, instead of just beginning again. But life isn’t the movies; and reality is different than our dreams. We’re already awake.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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Image credit: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993

After returning from a trek across small-town America, I decided it would be fun to see what the area around my adopted city of Austin used to look like before tech companies and tract housing took over large swaths of land. Did it once resemble the rural areas I’d just driven through, covered in corn fields, scrub brush, and the pathetic vestiges of a lost election? Or was it always papered in little boxes made of ticky-tacky? Research told me that if I wanted a peek at the Austin suburbs of yore, I’d have to go back to the 1993 Lasse Hallström feel-good classic, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Disc/Download).

Shot on location in the Texas hamlets of Manor and Pflugerville (that’s MAY-nor for all you out-of-towners), this quirky gem has the Lone Star state standing in for the fictional small town of Endora, Iowa. Gilbert (Johnny Depp) is the glue holding his dysfunctional family together, but even the strongest epoxy has a melting point. With a dangerously obese mother, mentally-disabled little brother, angry teen sister, and dead-end job at a failing grocery store, he’s one crisis away from a nervous breakdown. Even friends like Crispin Glover and John C. Reilly can’t pull Gilbert out of his funk, nor can the sexy housewife (Mary Steenburgen) who carries a torch for long-haired, high-cheeked delivery boys. No, it takes the sunny presence of Juliette Lewis, and the wide-eyed innocence of a young Leonardo DiCaprio to make him see there’s still a big life ahead of him– he just needs to grab it. Nominated for an Academy Award, DiCaprio’s performance in this film remains a career highlight, as he all but disappears in to the role of Arnie. It’s worth a watch just to see that level of raw talent.

Austin may not be covered in farmland to the North and East anymore, but the grapes sure are thriving in the West. Using some wine I picked up in the Texas Hill Country, I made a drink that perfectly captures some great local flavors. While watching What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, I recommend drinking this Rosé Lavender Lemonade.

Rosé Lavender Lemonade

4oz Dry Rosé Wine (I used William Chris Vineyards Skeleton Key Rosé)

1oz Lavender Simple Syrup

1oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Club Soda

Lemon Slice for Garnish

Combine Rosé, Simple Syrup, and Lemon Juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then pour into a glass filled with fresh ice. Top with Club Soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a lemon slice.

This film resonates with me in a lot of ways, but particularly in its handling of grief. There’s been a lot of that in my life recently, and yes there have been times when I’ve felt tempted to just set the house on fire, pack up my car, and go. But there’s another way to move forward, that doesn’t involve arson or abandonment. It’s looking around, taking stock of what’s important, and figuring out how to conscientiously unload the rest. Figuring out, like Gilbert, how to be a good person. Cheers!

Rear Window

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Image credit: Rear Window, 1954

There’s nothing like a hot, humid night to make you want to cool off with an effortlessly chic film and icy cocktail. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (Disc/Download) may take place during the dog days of summer, but it never fails to chill me to the bone.

With a main character loosely based on real-life celebrity/lifestyle photographer Slim Aarons, this movie seems tailor made to fit my mid-century sensibilities. But throw in a tense murder mystery, voyeurism, and Hitchcockian suspense, and this Edith Head-flavored eye candy becomes a masterpiece. I’ve always loved Jimmy Stewart in a Hitchcock film because it’s an opportunity for cinema’s favorite everyman to dig a little deeper. As we see him lock eyes with a killer across the courtyard, it becomes apparent—this Jimmy has a dark side. One that compels him to watch his neighbors with the lights off, studying their movements, becoming involved in their dramas from afar. He can joke with Thelma Ritter and flirt with his socialite girlfriend, but there’s no denying the slight element of criminality to his behavior. Watching isn’t murder, but it’s still a violation.

Speaking of Thelma Ritter, I’d like to toast this 20th Century Queen of “Telling it Like it Is”. As the nurse who tends to Jimmy’s  L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries and his broken leg, she admonishes his semi-creepy voyeur habits while simultaneously musing about body disposal and blood spatter. Murderinos unite! When the action heats up, cool down with this Peeping Tom Collins.

Peeping Tom Collins

2 oz London Dry Gin

1 oz Lemon Juice

1 oz Ginger Liqueur

1/2 oz Simple Syrup

Club Soda to top

Lemon Wheel for garnish

Build drink over ice, stirring to combine. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

With just a hint of a spicy kick from the ginger liqueur, this drink will make you aware of how hot it is outside, but grateful you have air conditioning (unlike the poor folks in this Greenwich Village apartment complex). And be sure to watch out for a scene in which three people swirl brandy for about ten minutes straight, literally hypnotizing the viewer. If this was Hitch’s brand of misdirection, consider me duped. I have no idea what happened in that scene, other than the fact that Grace Kelly likes to aerate her alcohol and wear chunky charm bracelets. Cheers!

The Revolt of Mamie Stover

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Image credit: The Revolt of Mamie Stover, 1956

It took all of ten seconds to get me hooked on The Revolt of Mamie Stover (Disc), a campy 1950s melodrama directed by Roaul Walsh. As we watch Jane Russell step out of a police car to noirish music, the camera zooms in just as she turns to face the screen with a scowl of defiance. Talk about an entrance!!!!

Set in Hawaii on the cusp of the Pearl Harbor attack, this DeLuxe Color soap opera features strong female characters, romance, tiki drinks, and vinyl records. In other words, just a typical Sunday night in my living room. As sex-worker Mamie Stover, Jane Russell is smart, acerbic, and focused on one thing and one thing only—money. Although tempted into the straight life by writer Jim Blair (Richard Egan), Mamie understands sex is her ultimate weapon. If a guy can’t handle that, then aloha, buddy. Don’t let the bamboo door hit you on the way out. Sure, she makes a legit fortune buying up cheap properties in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack (shot in an incredibly moving, realistic way), but she still can’t relinquish the power that comes with her regular dance hall gig. Mamie is the star attraction, and club owner Agnes Moorehead (!!!) will stop at nothing to prevent her meal ticket from leaving.

If there was ever a movie that begs for a tiki cocktail, it’s this one. I’m taking inspiration from our red-headed star seductress for this drink, which goes up in flames just like Mamie’s love life. While watching The Revolt of Mamie Stover, I recommend drinking a Flaming Mamie.

Flaming Mamie

3 oz Jamaican Rum

1 oz Brandy

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Cinnamon Syrup

½ oz Velvet Falernum

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

½ Fresh Lime

1 oz 151-proof Demerara Rum

Combine first seven ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Set aside. Fill a scorpion bowl with crushed ice, then strain cocktail into it. Place a hollowed-out 1/2 lime in the center reservoir, fill with 151-proof rum, and light on fire. Serve with two straws.

This spicy cocktail is a lot like Mamie herself- complex, hot-headed, and dangerous if you get too close. As much as I love to think of Mamie in a tropical paradise, cashing those rental checks forever, a part of me is glad she eventually decides to head back to her small, judgmental hometown. It means this revolt isn’t over yet. Cheers!

Steel Magnolias

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Image credit: Steel Magnolias, 1989

This week, I’d like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to one of America’s greatest treasures, Miss Dolly Parton. A ray of sunshine in nearly every movie she’s strutted into, this sassy comedienne even manages to bring humor and wisdom to the tearjerker to end all tearjerkers, Steel Magnolias (Disc/Download).

Despite telling myself I’m not going to cry this time, I inevitably lose that battle and end up reaching for the tissues. But before that switch gets flipped and the onscreen heart monitor flatlines, there’s a lot of laughter. Dolly is the glue holding this small Louisiana town together, and she does it with hairspray, curlers, and a smile that just doesn’t quit. As owner of the local beauty parlor, Truvy knows everybody’s story and is always there to lend a friendly ear along with a hot wax treatment. There are other funny characters in this movie, such as Shirley MacLaine’s “Ouiser” and her mangy St. Bernard, but Dolly just brings so much positivity to the role of Truvy that even when we see her go through marital troubles (helloooooo sexy Sam Shepard) and the death of a close friend, we know she’s going to be okay. Dolly is the true Steel Magnolia of this world.

Although iced tea is considered the “house wine of the South,” these ladies deserve something a little more complex than a cold glass of Lipton. Take some inspiration from Shelby’s wedding colors “blush” and “bashful” while you watch Steel Magnolias, with a Tickled Pink cocktail.

Tickled Pink

1 ½ oz Malfy Rosa Gin

¾ oz Lillet Rosé

¼ oz Aperol

3 oz Prosecco

3 oz Sparkling Water

Grapefruit twist

Build drink in a glass over large ice cubes, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit.

Steel Magnolias is the kind of movie that brings to mind the trite saying, “They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore.” Movies with such rich character development that you feel like you personally know all these women, experiencing their joys and sorrows right along with them. There may not be such a thing as natural beauty, but from where I’m sitting, these Southern gals sure are gorgeous. Cheers!

A Single Man

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Image credit: A Single Man, 2009

I don’t know what type of movie Tom Ford might have up his tailored sleeve in the future, but consider this my official RSVP. It’s rare to find a filmmaker who can so expertly merge style with substance, but with this fashion designer-turned-director at the helm, I find myself connecting with the the visuals just as much as the drama. He may have shocked and terrified me (in a good way) with Nocturnal Animals, but he truly made me feel with A Single Man (Disc/Download).

Set in my favorite era (the 1960s), this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s fantastic novel follows Stanford English professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) over the course of a single day as he grieves his deceased lover Jim (Matthew Goode) and contemplates his own suicide. Through flashbacks, we witness George and Jim’s love story, from meeting in a crowded bar, to buying a beautiful mid-century modern home together, to adopting dogs, and all the way to that horrible call with the news that Jim has been in an automobile accident. Deprived of even the smallest dignity of attending the funeral, George’s life has suddenly lost all meaning, and even a sarcastic, gin-swilling Julianne Moore can’t pull him out of his despair. It takes a brazen student (played by Nicholas Hoult in a fuzzy mohair sweater), a midnight skinny dip in the ocean, and several important revelations to make him realize there may be more in store for him than a lifetime of sadness.

Something I particularly love about this film is its use of color. George’s life looks normal at first, until the first time he feels a strong emotion. Suddenly, it’s as if the celluloid gets dunked in a warm Instagram filter, and the hues burst from the screen. As soon as the memory, or sexual desire, or happiness fades, we go back to the original muted tones, and George’s grief is all the more obvious. I thought about joining Julianne Moore in a few Tanqueray & Tonic’s, but that just doesn’t seem bright enough. Let’s bring this drink into full color with the addition of Blood Orange. While watching A Single Man, I recommend drinking a Sunset Tonic.

Sunset Tonic

2 oz Malfy Con Arancia Gin

1 bottle Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic

Slice of blood orange

Build drink over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a slice of blood orange.

A Single Man is the kind of movie that stays with you for days after you watch it. Not only does it make you think about the ones you’ve lost, but it makes you contemplate what kind of future you’ll have now that they’re gone. Is it to be one of sadness and longing, or one of moonlight swims and dancing? What would they have wanted for you? It’s a question a lot of us will ask ourselves one day, and maybe Tom Ford just got me a little closer toward the answer. Cheers!

Magic Mike

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Image credit: Magic Mike, 2012

Living in Austin, it’s hard to escape the name Matthew McConaughey. Our local celebrity keeps popping up everywhere from University of Texas classrooms to the New York Times Bestseller list, and now there’s even talk about seeing him on the ballot one day. This former Dazed & Confused burnout has come a long way, but there is one particular stop along his long and winding journey that was truly unforgettable: the role of Dallas in Magic Mike (Disc/Download).

Say what you want about this crazy Texan, but it takes guts to strut around onstage in nothing but a g-string and cowboy hat. This Steven Soderbergh film about a Tampa male revue club could have easily been swallowed up by campy dance numbers and too many penis jokes (See: Magic Mike XXL). Don’t get me wrong, it still has those. But it also shows us the gritty underbelly of this sex and drug-fueled world. The odd thing about Magic Mike is that for a movie about sexual desire, there’s very little about it that’s sexy to me. So what are we left with? Raw performances, surprisingly beautiful cinematography, and the magnetic screen presence of McConaughey. Like a greasier version of Cabaret‘s Joel Grey, the Master of Ceremonies keeps us engaged, even when we think we’ve reached our limit of screaming women and wet one-dollar bills. Sure, there’s a lot to make fun of in this movie (Channing Tatum’s “furniture line” comes to mind), but this flashy scene-stealer is not one of them.

Now, I have a theory that Dallas is the original “Florida Man”, giving rise to a whole subgenre of trashy urban legends. Can’t you just see him pulling a gun on a McDonald’s employee because the McFlurry machine was broken? Let’s channel some of that Florida energy with a cocktail fit for your girlfriend’s bachelorette party at Xquisite, the Strawberry Mojito.

Strawberry Mojito

3 Fresh Strawberries

1 oz Simple Syrup

2-3 sprigs Fresh Mint

1 oz Lime juice

2 oz Light Rum

3-4 oz Club Soda

Muddle strawberries and mint with simple syrup and lime juice. Add Rum and ice to the shaker, and shake until chilled. Double strain into a glass filled with ice, and top with club soda. Stir gently to combine, and garnish with mint and lime twist.

As someone who has been to an all-male revue exactly one time (shout out to Thunder From Down Under!!!), I can say that the real thing is every bit as cringe-inducing as it looks in this movie. If your friends try and convince you it’ll be fun, just politely sit them down and suggest watching Magic Mike instead. You’ll save your eardrums, and your dignity. Cheers!

Dangerous Beauty

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Image credit: Dangerous Beauty, 1998

If you’re looking for a movie that features all the heart, heat, and feminist energy of a romance novel, then look no further than this week’s pick Dangerous Beauty (Disc/Download). Based on the biography of 16th century Venetian courtesan and poet Veronica Franco, this will leave you swooning over sumptuous costumes, moonlit canals, and a powerful woman who chooses learning above all else.

Made during the late 1990s, when small-budgeted, female-centric pictures still had a place within the cinema landscape, Dangerous Beauty stars Catherine McCormack as the beautiful young Veronica who falls in love with Marco, a man far above her social status. Unable to afford the dowry it would take to marry him, and unwilling to settle for a loveless marriage to someone else, she is instead schooled in the ways of seduction by her mother (Jacqueline Bisset), a former courtesan herself. Veronica agrees to this arrangement because being a courtesan means having access to great libraries and learning institutions. Blossoming as a poet and a woman of intellect, she finds success in her profession, never settling for the easy option. Yes, this is a love story between Veronica and Marco, but it is also a story of a woman claiming her power during a time when women didn’t have many options. As she says, “an education is a woman’s greatest and most hard-won asset.” Not marriage.

Beautifully directed by Marshall Herskovitz, this movie will have you longing for romantic rides in a gondola, followed by drinks on a balcony overlooking the canal. Maybe if you’re lucky, someone will drop off a peacock or drunkenly serenade you. While watching Dangerous Beauty, I recommend mixing up a classic Venetian Spritz.

Venetian Spritz

1 ½ oz Aperol

3 oz Prosecco

1 ½ oz Soda Water

Green Olive

Orange slice (garnish)

Build drink in a glass over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with an olive and orange slice.

Of course, all good times must come to an end, and in Veronica’s case that means plague, war, and the Spanish Inquisition. But even when confronted with so much darkness, she never loses sight of who she is and what she wants. It sounds weird to say it, but as a teenager watching this movie, I totally wanted to be like Veronica when I grew up. Hell, I still do. Cheers!