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Category Archives: Holiday Films

Bell, Book and Candle

Bell Book and Candle

Image credit: Bell, Book and Candle, 1958

For all you Vertigo fans out there, consider this my Cinema Sips Christmas gift to you. Maybe you’ve longed for more of Kim Novak’s eyebrows. Or an aging, tan Jimmy Stewart. Or that weird hypnotic lighting. Bell, Book and Candle (DVD) covers all the bases. Plus, there are the added bonuses of a beatnik Jack Lemmon playing the bongo drums, and a very expressive Siamese cat. Happy Holidays to all!

Although the film starts on Dec. 24th and stars Mr. Christmas himself, Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life this is not. Kim Novak plays a witch who falls for a book publisher (Stewart), and she must decide whether to give in to love and become mortal, or keep her powers and lose him. The pair’s onscreen chemistry is every bit as sizzling as it was in Vertigo, and even though this is meant to be a romantic comedy, there’s something dark and powerful between these two actors. They’re sexy without even trying to be, and I am totally under their spell.

The movie takes a strange turn when Jimmy Stewart’s publishing house courts an expert on Mexican witchcraft. While it seems like an unnecessary plot element, I still love Ernie Kovacs in this role. (Let’s face it, I love Ernie Kovacs in any role). While watching Bell, Book and Candle, I recommend drinking a Mexican Séance.

Mexican Séance

1 ½ oz Patron XO Coffee Liqueur

1 ½ oz Chameleon Cold Brew Coffee- Mexican flavor

1 ½ oz Egg Nog

¾ oz Crème de Cacao

2-3 dashes chocolate bitters

Orange twist

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a twist of orange.

Mexican Spell

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the production design and costuming. Bell, Book and Candle is a perfect time capsule of 1960’s Greenwich Village style, from capri pants to mid-century modern furniture. Jimmy Stewart’s office, covered in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and featuring a gorgeous vintage couch, is the stuff of book lovers’ dreams. Witchcraft never looked so appealing. Cheers!

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Gremlins

gremlins

Image credit: Gremlins, 1984

Full confession: I was a child of the 80’s, there was a stuffed Mogwai in my house, yet I’d never actually seen Gremlins (DVD/Download). Or if I did see it, I kept my eyes closed through the scary parts. I don’t know what I was picturing before my recent viewing, but WOW- this was not it.

I expected goo, claws, teeth, and big ears. What I didn’t anticipate was the sheer level of camp within this bizarre neo-Pleasantville, where Phoebe Cates plays the youngest bank teller in history, and her cute co-worker looks like he should be studying for his SAT’s next year. His worthless but well-meaning dad gives him a Mogwai for Christmas, because that’s what every kid wants- a strange creature picked up in a Chinatown basement. And dang if “Gizmo” isn’t the cutest thing ever. Those big eyes! The weird singing! The fact that he’s smart enough to turn down a snack after midnight! I’m not even smart enough to turn down a snack after midnight. Of course Corey Feldman has to screw it all up and accidentally dump water on him, causing Gizmo to birth a quintet of demon gremlins, who break all the rules and terrorize the town. The film takes a turn into horror-ville after the gremlins start multiplying, but with the terrible special effects, it’s more funny than scary.

Gremlins is so weird that it deserves a cocktail that’s as unexpected as creepy creatures popping out of a douglas fir. Gizmo and I share a fear of illumination (me due to retinal problems, him because he’s got a lot of strange rules), so while watching Gremlins, treat yourself to a shiny Bright Light.

Bright Light

1.5 oz Pear Vodka

.5 oz Lemon Juice

Sparkling wine

Rosemary Sprig

Shake vodka and lemon juice over ice to chill.  Strain into a flute, and top with sparkling wine.  Garnish with a rosemary sprig.

Bright Light.jpeg

This movie spawned countless sequels, and I have to attribute its enduring popularity to the fact that somebody finally made a holiday movie that wasn’t all carol singers and egg nog. It depicts crazy, scary things happening in a small town because yes, even at Christmas, bad things can happen. At least there’s alcohol to get us through. Cheers!

Go

Go

Image credit: Go, 1999

Looking back, I think my love of dystopian Christmas films originated with this week’s pick Go (DVD/Download). For a sullen girl in the 90’s, this film about drug dealers, burnouts, and Timothy Olymphant’s upper body was everything I could ever want. Watching it now, as a semi-jaded adult who still questions the “magic” of the holidays among traffic jams, retail spam, and airline price gouging, it still resonates.

Told in a series of vignettes centered around a drug deal gone bad, we see the Christmas holiday from multiple points of view. There’s the entrepreneurial, desperate Ronna (played wonderfully by Sarah Polley), who’s just trying to keep a roof over her head by selling counterfeit Ecstasy to unsuspecting teens at a rave (so 90’s). Then there’s hot drug dealer Todd, played by a very young Timothy Olymphant, who gets screwed over by Ronna, but still wants to seduce her friend Claire (played by fresh-off-the-Creek Katie Holmes). Todd loans his credit card to Simon, who works with Ronna and Claire, for use on a wild Vegas getaway where he ends up stealing a car with Taye Diggs and shooting up a strip club. Then there’s Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr, a couple of TV actors participating in a failed drug bust who later run Ronna over with their Miata. As the plots all intersect and the characters find themselves converging at a warehouse rave on the outskirts of LA, we almost forget that it’s Christmas. Most of these people had given up on the idea of a jolly holiday years ago.

Although there isn’t much alcohol in this movie (save for some strip-club champagne), there are drugs.  Specifically Ecstasy.  And what goes with Ecstasy better than orange juice? (Not that I would know from experience or anything. I definitely don’t….). While watching Go, dive right into the Christmas underbelly with a Xerxes X-mas cocktail.

Xerxes  X-mas

1 ¼ oz Orange Juice

1 oz Vodka

¾ oz Grand Marnier

¼ oz Lime Juice

4 oz Champagne

Pour orange juice, vodka, Grand Marnier and lime juice over ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir to combine and chill, then strain into a chilled coupe glass. Top with champagne, and orange twist.

Superdrink

It’s really easy to be cynical around the holidays because, well, not much is actually different. The money woes you had in November are still there in December, you’re continuing to clock in at a job that may or may not be of the dead-end variety, and all the mistletoe in the world doesn’t necessarily equate to true love. But for one crazy night, sometimes it’s OK to just Go. Whatever that word may mean to you, wherever it may lead, just GO. Cheers!

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!

The Shop Around the Corner

shop-around-the-corner

Image credit: The Shop Around the Corner, 1940

(Dear Friend,)

Although I adore a black & white Jimmy Stewart film at Christmas time, I’ve already covered the classic It’s a Wonderful Life on Cinema Sips. So instead this week I’ll be featuring another holiday favorite, The Shop Around the Corner (DVD/Download). While not as overtly sentimental as the Capra film he’d later become known for, it still features a good dose of Stewart charm and some delightful send-ups of the holiday shopping season.

I first came across this wonderful picture after watching the remake, You’ve Got Mail. Nora Ephron did a fabulous job of updating this classic for modern audiences, and it’s truly one of my favorites. But the original is no slouch either. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the story of boy-meets-girl anonymously through mail is timeless. Think of it as Catfish pre-sexual predators and con artists. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan trade barbs as they work side-by-side in a Budapest gift shop, never realizing that they’ve fallen in love with each other through their letters. Special mention goes to scene-stealer Pepi the delivery boy- I’m still trying to figure out how to get him as my outgoing voicemail message.

One of the famous scenes in this film (as well as in You’ve Got Mail) is the disastrous face-to-face meeting of the two lovers at a café. Identifying herself with a red flower in a book, Margaret Sullavan has no idea that her true love is standing across from her in the form of tall, lanky Jimmy Stewart. While watching The Shop Around the Corner, I recommend drinking a Red Carnation.

Red Carnation

1 ½ oz Vodka

2 oz Sparkling pomegranate juice

½ oz lime juice

½ oz Vanilla vodka

Dash of bitters

Topo Chico sparkling water

Sprig of mint for garnish

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and stir to combine. Strain into a glass with crushed ice, top with Topo Chico, and garnish with mint.

red-carnation

This is a great movie to watch while you’re wrapping gifts because the dialogue is so darn snappy. And perhaps it will inspire you to go back out to the store for a cigarette case that plays music. Or, maybe you can just send Pepi. Cheers!

The Family Stone

the-family-stone

Image credit: The Family Stone, 2005

It happened again this year-  I found myself getting sucked down the Hallmark Christmas movie wormhole. I tell myself I’ll just watch this one about a single mom who has sworn off men but then meets the love of her life working at a soup kitchen (it’s always a soup kitchen), until 6 hours later I’m wrapped up in a blanket cocoon, cookie crumbs everywhere, weeping as fake snow falls around yet another happy couple in chunky sweaters (it’s always a chunky sweater). Clearly, I’m in need of something to wean me off of this TV movie crack. To that end, I’ll be watching The Family Stone (DVD/Download). It’s got the lighthearted romance I crave, mixed with the gravitas of a cancer-subplot that tugs at the heartstrings. But also, it includes some intelligent conversations about world cultures and gay rights. I like to think of this one as Hallmark for the liberal elite.

The Family Stone stars Sarah Jessica Parker as an uptight career gal who is brought home to meet her boyfriend’s family at Christmas.  From the NPR-tote bag-carrying little sister played by Rachel McAdams, to the funky jewelry/Coldwater Creek-wearing mom played by Diane Keaton, The Family Stone is full of lofty ideals and snarky judgement. To be fair, Parker’s character says some pretty abominable things when she gets nervous and backed into a corner, but still- tough crowd. Luckily Luke Wilson is around to lighten up the mood, as well as Craig T. Nelson in his typical gentle giant patriarch role. There are some fun moments where SJP finally lets her “freak flag fly”, but then- cancer (it’s always cancer).

The house in this film is meant to evoke all the warm fuzzies.  It’s messy, full of love, and big enough for a crowd.   And what is the perfect thing to drink at a New England holiday gathering?  Pumpkin Spice Lattes of course! I’m making mine a little boozy because family get-togethers can be rough. While watching The Family Stone, I recommend drinking a Spiked Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Spiked Pumpkin Spice Latte

5 cups strong brewed coffee

3 cups milk

½ cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup Bourbon

½ cup Bailey’s Irish Cream

¼ cup canned pure pumpkin

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Whipped cream topping

In a slow cooker, mix all ingredients except the whipped cream topping. Stir with a whisk until well combined. Cover and cook on High setting 2 hours, stirring once after an hour. Serve in mugs, and top with whipped cream and additional pumpkin pie spice.

spiked-psl

This would be a great drink to serve on Christmas morning when you’re opening gifts and settling in for a lazy day with food and family.  Or, you could be like me and make a whole pot for yourself, not realizing until you’re 3 Hallmark movies in that you’ve consumed a week’s worth of heavy cream and alcohol.  Whatever works for you and yours.  Cheers!

Carol

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carol

Image credit: Carol, 2015

This is serious folks- I’ve been writing Cinema Sips for three years, and I’m starting to run out of Christmas movies! Next year we might be down to The Gremlins.  It’s bad. Thankfully, last year’s masterpiece Carol (DVD/Download) has delayed the inevitable just a little bit longer. Featuring 1950’s holiday dysfunction, beautiful vintage clothes, and classic cocktails, this is the perfect thing to kick off a season of overindulging.

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith (a personal favorite author of mine), Carol tells the unlikely love story between glamorous suburban housewife Carol, and bohemian shopgirl/photographer Therese. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara portray these characters so beautifully, and I find myself rooting for their impossible romance with all my heart. Director Todd Haynes has made what feels like a classic film in modern times, and this quiet story that happens to be set at Christmas is just the reminder I need that despite the tinsel and holiday music and greeting cards, real life is still happening too.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- nobody drinks a martini like Cate Blanchett. She’s in rare form here, ordering a lunch of dry martinis and poached eggs with creamed spinach. I’m not sure this combo is the best (or most appetizing) food pairing, it is the best cocktail choice for this movie. While watching Carol, I recommend drinking a Dry Martini (with an olive).*

Dry Martini

2 ½ oz Gin

½ oz Dry Vermouth

1-2 Olives

Stir gin and vermouth in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with an olive.

dry-martini

I’ll always love my old Christmas stand-bys like The Holiday, Love Actually, Little Women, etc, but it feels good to add a new classic to the mix. Sipping a martini in a Sandy Powell dress while 1950’s New York buzzes around you? Sounds like a perfect holiday fantasy to me. Cheers!

(*Note: I made this same cocktail selection two years ago for The Thin Man.  Perhaps a double feature is in order!)