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Category Archives: Holiday Films

Love at the Christmas Table

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Love at the Christmas Table

Image credit: Love at the Christmas Table, 2012.

This week’s Cinema Sips selection was prompted by my love for Schitt’s Creek actor Dustin Milligan, who once sported a particularly festive Christmas sweater and apron in an episode. I thought to myself, this guy needs his own holiday movie. After a deep dive through IMDB, I was delighted to discover that he already has one, Love at the Christmas Table (Disc/Download).

Before you go thinking that Dustin is the only big name in this, I’ll have you know that it also stars Danica McKellar from The Wonder Years, Scott Patterson from Gilmore Girls, and Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson as a boozy Miss Havisham character! I think we’re supposed to see a Great Expectations plot in this, where lovers meet as children then gradually discover they’re meant for each other, but it’s hard to grasp under all the mistletoe, twinkle lights, and paper-thin career ambitions (you’re a furniture designer all of a sudden Danica? Oh reaaaally?). I’m mainly here for the impromptu ballroom dancing, Lea Thompson’s fab office featuring a mini-bar and fake book wallpaper, and a creepy/cute cardboard house that looks like something a serial killer would have made. Danica, you might need to run.

Something that stays constant as these kids grow up is the annual rum cake at their holiday gathering. It gets boozier as they get older, which I am all for. Here’s a recipe for a fun Rum Cake Martini that’ll put you in the holiday spirit.

Rum Cake Martini

1.5 oz Kraken Black Spiced Rum

1 oz Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur

.5 oz Butterscotch Schnapps

2 oz Half-and-Half

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake well until chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass.

Rum Cake Martini

While the plot of this movie certainly has some issues, I’m willing to forgive a lot for charming actors, which Love at the Christmas Table has in spades. If you want to see what some of your favorite TV stars are up to, give this a watch. And don’t forget the rum. Cheers!

The Spirit of Christmas

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The Spirit of Christmas

Image credit: The Spirit of Christmas, 2015.

Sing it with me: It’s the most…Wonderful time…Of the year. That’s right, I’m talking about CHRISTMAS MOVIE SEASON!!!!  I’ve featured a lot of great holiday classics over the years, but now it’s time to move to the small screen.  We are living in the age of the made-for-TV Christmas Movie, and Hollywood just can’t compete anymore (see: Last Christmas).  Thanks to Hallmark, Lifetime, and Netflix, we’ll never have to experience this holiday without bland men in chunky sweaters, klutzy heroines, and cookie baking contests ever again.  There’s literally a movie for every day of December.  It was tough going, picking out just 4 or 5 for Cinema Sips, but I suffered through a lot of research to bring you the best of the best (really, it was my husband who suffered.  I loved it). Kicking things off is my personal favorite, The Spirit of Christmas (Disc/Download).

Remember what I said about bland men in chunky sweaters?  Yeah, not this movie.  The Spirit of Christmas features a sexxxxxxxxy bootlegger ghost haunting an inn for twelve days every December, mixing up cocktails, trimming his beard, and trying to figure out who killed him nearly a hundred years ago.  Enter Kate, the big city estate attorney tasked with getting the inn appraised for sale, who comes face-to-ghost-face with hot bearded Daniel, forcing him to open both his heart and his liquor cabinet for her.   This movie truly has it all:  romance, cocktails, actual snow, a little murder mystery, and cheesy supernatural effects.  It’s like they decided to throw all the genres together and see what happens.  The plot is ludicrous, but I’ll have you know that Daniel wears GLASSES, a vest, suspenders, a shawl cardigan, and in one glorious scene, an unbuttoned shirt.  And did I mention the beard?

Before his fatal death blow, Daniel made a living as a talented rum-runner in the days of Prohibition.  So let’s celebrate The Spirit of Christmas with this Rum Runner cocktail!

Rum Runner

1 oz Light Rum

1 oz Dark Spiced Rum

1 oz Banana Liqueur

1 oz Chambord

1 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Pineapple Juice

Splash of Grenadine

Fresh fruit for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a hurricane glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with fruit and drink umbrella.

It may seem a little strange to be drinking a tropical tiki drink while watching a Christmas movie, but honestly, it’s not as strange as the movie itself.  Case in point, Kate’s “gift” to Daniel is an old birth certificate proving that it was his baby who died shortly after birth, and not his girlfriend’s supposed lover’s. In other words, “Merry Christmas, it was YOUR dead baby.”  All I can say is strap in—it’s gonna be one wild December on Cinema Sips.  Cheers!

Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me In St. Louis

Image credit: Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944.

After three weeks of black-and-white Christmas films, the technicolor explosion of Meet Me in St. Louis (Disc/Download) is quite a shock for the eyes. Visually stunning, this Judy Garland classic screams Hollywood Studio System, while signaling a modern auteur-driven type of storytelling still to come. With a creepy Victorian snow family, a night of trick-or-treating straight out of Stranger Things, and a horrifying platter of corned beef and cabbage, this movie is one crazy trolley ride.

Set in St. Louis at the turn of the century, the film is about the mundane lives of a large middle-class family, the Smiths (lord, even their name is boring).  The daughters are chasing after boys, the dad is rolling his eyes, and everyone’s all atwitter about the upcoming World’s Fair. Though the plot of Meet Me in St. Louis holds little interest for me,  the visual pop of Vincente Minnelli’s directorial style is what truly makes this film a classic. The vibrant costumes, unusual lighting, and ahead-of-its-time Halloween horror sequence—these are the elements I keep coming back to.

This film tends to get lumped into holiday movies due to Judy Garland’s heartbreakingly lovely rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and the red velvet dress she wears. This was the moment the world sat up and took note of Garland, child actress no more. She’s beautiful and sexy, like something out of a John Singer Sargent painting. While watching Meet Me in St. Louis, celebrate Judy with this Red Velvet Martini.

Red Velvet Martini

2 oz Cake vodka

1 oz White Crème de Cacao

3/4 oz Grenadine

1/4 oz Simple syrup

2-3 dashes Aztec bitters

Chocolate drop for garnish

Mix liquid ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigoriously, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a chocolate drop.

Red Velvet Martini

Because this film is full of iconic costumes, it makes me eager to learn more about the stories behind them. Until the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens in Los Angeles, whet your appetite with the book Hollywood Costume. And for anyone interested in the scary underbelly of a World’s Fair, I highly recommend Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. Chronicling the true story of a serial killer targeting visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair, this book will have you wondering if the Smith family home is really as boring as it seems. Cheers, and happy reading!

Holiday Affair

Holiday Affair

Image credit: Holiday Affair, 1949.

Poor Carl. All he wants for Christmas is for Janet Leigh to accept his proposal of marriage. He’s been waiting TWO YEARS, for god sakes. Two years of putting up with her bratty kid, watching her walk around in pointy brassieres, and being treated like the family Labrador. And now, at Christmas, he’s forced to watch his lady fall for the bedroom eyes of Robert Mitchum, an unemployed bum who hangs out in the park and gets arrested for stealing salt and pepper shakers. Holiday Affair (Disc/Download) may be billed as a charming holiday romance, but make no mistake- this film is a sad reminder that nice guys finish last.

I thought I’d seen the pinnacle of annoying child actors in the 1953 western Shane. But then came Timmy. Timmy is the kind of kid who badgers his broke single mom for the most expensive Christmas present on the market, thus making her feel guilty for all of her life choices. Timmy also turns the “poor me” face on Robert Mitchum’s character Steve, convincing this guy who just lost his job to spend a bunch of money on a kid he barely knows. Meanwhile, Carl the Earnest Lawyer wants to give Timmy and his mom a stable home and a hefty joint bank account. Does Timmy want that? No, of course not. He kicks Carl in the leg, screams his head off, and tries his damnest to fix his mom up with the hot bum. I have two words for Timmy’s Mom: Birth. Control.

I’m of the opinion that pretty much every Robert Mitchum film should be watched with Bourbon. This is a man’s man if there ever was one. Because I spent this movie mostly wanting to smash Timmy’s face in, while watching Holiday Affair I recommend drinking a Holiday Bourbon Smash.

Holiday Bourbon Smash

2 oz Bourbon

1 oz Pear Liqueur

2 oz Apple Cider

1 oz Lemon Juice

2 tbsp Cinnamon Pear jam

Club Soda

Cinnamon Stick Garnish

Combine the bourbon, pear liqueur, apple cider, lemon juice, and jam in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until well mixed, then strain into a glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Holiday Bourbon Smash.jpeg

The thing about this film is, I should love it. A single-mom-finding-romance-again is one of my favorite tropes! That Holiday Affair fails to light my yule log might be because I’ve read so many wonderful novels that do a much better job with this story. An old favorite of mine is Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Dream a Little Dream, which features an adorably sweet kid, the feisty widow of a televangelist, and her romance with a hunky drive-in movie theater owner. There isn’t a Christmas tree, but did I mention he owns a movie theater??  Cheers!

Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut

Image credit: Christmas in Connecticut, 1945.

Take a saucy career-minded city gal, put her on a farm, hand her a baby and force her to flip flapjacks, and what do you get? This week’s delightful classic rom-com Christmas in Connecticut (Disc/Download). Though it would later be remade by esteemed director Arnold Schwartzenegger (no, I am not joking), the original Barbara Stanwyck version holds up remarkably well. This is Hallmark Christmas with better clothes, better looking men, and better acting. What are you waiting for?!

The parallels between my life and Elizabeth’s are uncanny.  When I started Cinema Sips over five years ago, I’ll be honest- I had no idea what I was doing. I trusted recipe books and expert advice to get me through, kind of like Elizabeth relies on her Hungarian chef uncle to convince readers she knows her way around a kitchen. Also, we both have no clue what to do with a baby. Literally, none. And most importantly, we strive to be the best-dressed person in any room, meager paychecks be-damned. Therefore, I can really empathize when Elizabeth is forced to pretend to be a domestic goddess for one zany weekend at Christmas, all to impress her publisher and a Navy war hero. Sometimes, a lady doesn’t want to flip flapjacks or give a baby a bath, so back the f*ck off, okay???

Another reason I’m convinced we’re sorta the same person is because this columnist loves a good martini.  The holidays are a great time to make festive martinis, so while you’re watching Christmas in Connecticut, I recommend drinking this Sleigh Ride Martini.

Sleigh Ride Martini

2 oz Peppermint Twist vodka

0.5 oz Vanilla vodka

0.5 oz White crème de cacao

Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until very cold, then strain into a chilled glass. 

Sleighride Martini

BTW, the Smirnoff Peppermint Twist bottle is scratch-and-sniff!!!!  What a time to be alive!

If I had to pick a modern Hollywood equivalent of Elizabeth Lane The Domestic Goddess, my mind goes immediately to Reese Witherspoon. From hot rolling your hair to whipping up a batch of fluffy biscuits, her new book Whiskey in a Teacup is Elizabeth Lane’s column for a new audience. It may be more Mint Juleps than Martinis, but hey- I applaud any lady who enjoys a good cocktail and also tells me how to make it. Cheers!

The Bishop’s Wife

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The Bishop's Wife

Image credit: The Bishop’s Wife, 1947.

Who’s ready for an old-fashioned Christmas? This year, Cinema Sips will be highlighting  holiday films of the 1940’s, guaranteed to make you smile and long for the days when women wore hats and men dressed up to have breakfast. Kicking things off is the 1947 charmer, The Bishop’s Wife (Disc/Download).

Although it would later be remade with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, the original film stars Cary Grant as the winsome angel Dudley, sent down to Earth to give guidance to a conflicted bishop and his neglected wife (played by David Niven and Loretta Young, respectively). You’d think this would be a sermon-filled snooze-fest, but in reality it’s a delightful Mary Poppins-esque film about tolerance, empathy, and the magic of the holidays. Plus, there’s Cary on Ice, Cary decorating a Christmas Tree, and Cary in a polka dot scarf. This is all the incentive I need to watch.

So apparently, angels have no problem with our holiday indulgences.  When Dudley counsels a failing writer, he also keeps refilling his empty bottle of booze with a sneaky little finger trick. I’m pretty sure I could also use some spiritual guidance like that right about now (*looks skyward*).  While watching The Bishop’s Wife, I recommend drinking a Bishop cocktail.

Bishop

3 oz Rum

1 oz Red wine

1/4 oz Simple syrup

3/4 oz Lime juice

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a wine glass.

Bishop

As part of my holiday posts this year, I’ll also be recommending some books that would make great gifts for the cinephile in your life. For fans of The Bishop’s Wife, be sure and check out Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in the Heavens, an engrossing novel about Loretta Young’s relationships with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, her rumored Hollywood scandals, and fun escapades with pal David Niven. You’ll see the bishop and his wife in a WHOOOOOLE new light. Cheers!

While You Were Sleeping

While you were sleeping

Image credit: While You Were Sleeping, 1995.

Before I dive into a month’s worth of classic Christmas films, I’m easing into the holiday spirit with the movie that probably inspired countless contemporary romance novels and Hallmark productions. (Let’s pause to write the producers a thank-you note).  While You Were Sleeping (DVD/Download) is the Christmas movie for lonely hearts, the siren call for every schlubby transit worker who dreams of the guy in the suit, only to realize the guy in the Carhartt jacket is way sexier. Trust me- you want the guy who can build you a chair, not the one who can buy it for you.

Starring Sandra Bullock as a single, cat-owning, Oreo-eating heroine, While You Were Sleeping is a film not just about romance, but about family connection. After she saves her crush from being hit by a train, his family mistakenly believes she’s their future daughter-in-law, and she goes along with it because it kinda sucks to be alone at the holidays. But then she meets her faux-fiance’s brother played by Bill Pullman (honestly I was always more of a Paxton girl myself, but Pullman makes it work), and realizes he’s maybe kinda sorta her soul mate.  Hijinks ensue, Christmas trees are bought, presents are unwrapped, and Chicago looks really f*cking cold. Pass the eggnog!

One fun thing I discovered on a recent re-watch of this film is that the grandma-with-a-heart-problem (because of course) is played by none other than Glynis Johns, aka. Mrs. Banks from Mary Poppins. Grandma Elsie mixes up a mean batch of eggnog, meant to be sipped slowly. So while watching While You Were Sleeping, let’s join in the fun by drinking Elsie’s Eggnog:

Elsie’s Eggnog

4 oz Store-bought eggnog

1 oz Rumchata

1 oz Southern Comfort

1 oz Bourbon

Whipped Cream and cinnamon for garnish

Stir together eggnog and other ingredients in a shaker with ice. Stir until chilled, then strain into a chilled glass. Top with whipped cream and cinnamon.

eggnog

This movie is especially endearing because it’s not just a film about a girl trying to get a guy at Christmas. It’s about a girl trying to connect with a family, one that comes with drunk relatives, ugly furniture, and the kind of mom who will put up a stocking for someone she barely knows. And that’s what makes the holidays so great, when you stop to think about it. Well, that and boozy eggnog. Cheers!