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Top Five ’90s Throwbacks in ‘Swingers’

1.  Answering Machines

Swingers answering machine

Hands up if you ever felt that wave of disappointment when the blinking light yielded just one “Hi, it’s Grandma” message.

2.  Wallet Chains

Just… why??

3.  Swing Music

big bad voodoo daddy

Admit it, you had a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy CD in your collection.  But just one.

4.  Grainy Video Games

hockey

How did we even see what was happening??  A Sixth-Sega Sense?

5.  The Club

 

Honestly, this thing did a pretty good job of protecting our crappy Toyota Corolla on the mean streets of Washington DC.  However it did nothing to prevent my Bill Withers CD from being stolen.

Somewhere

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somewhere

Image credit: Somewhere, 2010

Some people despise stories of privileged angst, but me?  I love them.  As Cherry put it in The Outsiders, “Things are rough all over.”  Watching a character like Johnny Marco in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere (Disc/Download) makes me feel just a little bit better about my own world.  Unhappiness is the great equalizer—it doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, famous or invisible.  Personally, I’d rather watch unhappiness take root in a luxury hotel full of swimming pools and celebrities.  To each their own.

This quiet, contemplative film about a movie star reconnecting with his daughter was Coppola’s third feature, and the comparisons to Lost in Translation are inevitable.  Shot on location at The Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, it offers a similar glimpse of celebrity, and the loneliness that often accompanies it.  As Johnny, Stephen Dorff is bored, lost, and drifting.  He rolls through the streets of Hollywood in his Ferrari, searching for anything that will give him a brief moment of pleasure.  But it isn’t until his eleven-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) comes to stay with him that we see glimpses of life behind his dead eyes. He’s trying hard to be the father she deserves, even though deep down he feels like a fraud.  But it’s the trying that tugs at my heartstrings—I want the Johnny who orders every flavor of gelato from room service to be the one who sticks around for her forever.

Speaking of gelato, this movie makes me hungry for it in a big way.  When Johnny and Cleo go to Milan for a film premiere, they’re gifted a lavish hotel suite complete with its own pool.  They order room service late at night, watching Italian-dubbed Friends to cure their jet-lag.  Whether you’re holed up in a Milan suite, lounging poolside at the Chateau Marmont, or just sweating in a hammock in East Austin, this drink will get you through summer. While watching Somewhere, I recommend drinking a Limoncello Float.

Limoncello Float

1 oz Limoncello

1 oz Grand Marnier

Champagne

Limone Gelato

Combine Limoncello and Grand Marnier in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass.  Top with champagne (enough to fill the glass ¾ full), then a scoop of Gelato.

Limoncello Float

Watching this movie, it’s clear that Johnny is drifting.  I don’t even need to see him floating on a pool raft to confirm, though it is a gorgeous shot (hell, every shot of this film is gorgeous).  And the thing is, every one of us has felt stuck at some point, unable to figure out what we want or how to get it, letting ourselves just be carried along until inspiration strikes.  I have not been, nor will I ever be famous, but in this case, I feel like a real Hollywood movie star.  Now fetch me ALL the gelato, please.  Cheers!

California Suite

California Suite

Image credit: California Suite, 1978.

Well, I don’t know what to say about the Oscars this year except they’ve really mucked it up, haven’t they? From the host debacle, to the televised category back-and-forth, to the lack of female nominees, it’s enough to make even the most die-hard film fan skip the ceremony altogether. Me, I love a good train wreck.  But if you REALLY must skip,  I suggest watching California Suite (DVD/Download) instead. In this delightful gem of a film, Maggie Smith perfectly sums up the Academy Awards in one sentence: “I’ve been getting ready for this horseshit affair for THREE HOURS!!!!” I feel ya, Mags. All they have left are the dresses.

Adapted from a Neil Simon play, California Suite follows four couples who are all staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel. In these vignettes, we get to enjoy the following highlights: Maggie Smith, shit-faced after losing the Academy Award, arguing with her semi-closeted gay husband played by Michael Caine. Walter Matthau, waking up next to a hooker he has to hide from his wife. Jane Fonda and Alan Arkin, bickering over custody of their daughter. Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, playing tennis, wrestling, and showing us why it’s a bad idea to travel with friends. Shot on location at the Beverly Hills Hotel, this film is a vintage textile lover’s dream. That banana leaf wallpaper— SWOOOOON! I know I’ll never be Maggie Smith, and I know I’ll never be up for an Academy Award, but I can sure as hell get drunk in the hall and fondle that wallpaper. One might even say it’s on my bucket list.

While Maggie prepares to lose the Oscar, her fabulous husband is busy pouring the gin. As he says, “three gins, one tonic”. Sounds like the perfect ratio. You could make one strong drink, or you could join me during the red carpet coverage in trying ALL THE GINS, and a little bit of tonic. Cheers!

Gins and Tonic

We love to hate on this year’s Academy Awards broadcast, but California Suite proves that people have been hating on this damn dog-and-pony show since the 1970’s.  Probably even before.  Whether you watch this movie to mock the absurdity along with Maggie Smith (who incidentally, did win an Oscar for her role in this), or watch it for the wonderful slice-of-life script, just watch it. Preferably with three gins of course ;-). Cheers!

Crimson Peak

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Crimson Peak

Image credit: Crimson Peak, 2015.

I’ll admit, I definitely watched Crimson Peak (DVD/Download) expecting a spooky Jane Eyre. While it wasn’t that, I’m still not exactly sure what it hoped to be. Gothic romance? Grisly horror? A cinematic ode to velvet? While this film is certainly beautiful, in the end I was left with the old Gertrude Stein quote rattling around in my brain- there is no there, there.

While I normally eschew horror, I gave this a shot because the visuals promised to be absolutely incredible. And, they are. From a turn-of-the-century American industrialist’s mansion, to a rotting estate in the barren English countryside, Crimson Peak is all about the production design. For me, it was love-at-first-clawfoot tub sighting.  But then there’s all the velvet. SO. MUCH. VELVET. Pants, capes, dresses, and hats in the most beautiful jewel tones. These characters stand out against their decrepit surroundings, not because they’re saying anything interesting (they’re not), but because someone has taken the time to drape and tailor their clothes to perfection. I wish there were more substance to this story of a girl falling victim to a marriage-murder plot, but there’s just not. Will I keep watching for glimpses of her puffed sleeves? Of course. Do I wish I’d just turned the sound off halfway through? Kinda, yeah.

One sinister note Crimson Peak employs is the use of the color red. From a spray of blood to a river of blood, this color saturates everything.  Time to drink a color-coordinated cocktail that references all the poisoned tea being served at Allerdale Hall.  While watching Crimson Peak, I recommend drinking a Bloody Mar-tea-ni.

Bloody Mar-tea-ni

1.5 oz Sweet Tea vodka

1.5 oz Pomegranate juice

1.5 oz Blood Orange juice

½ oz Luxardo Maraschino syrup

To prepare glass, drizzle Luxardo maraschino syrup around the inside. Set aside. Combine vodka, pomegranate juice, and blood orange juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into prepared glass.

Bloody Mar-Tea-Ni

For fans of scary movies, you could do worse than Crimson Peak. There are some genuinely frightening moments when angry ghosts try to get their revenge, and a lot of suspense around the fate of the family papillon (at least for a dog-lover like me). But luckily, the acting and dialogue is so campy that I never really felt that nightmare-inducing grip of fear. Next to the dog, the only other thing I truly cared about in that house was the velvet. Please- no blood splatter on the velvet!!!!! Cheers!

Tim’s Vermeer

timsvermeer

Image credit: Tim’s Vermeer, 2013

Documentary Month continues with a film that forever changed the way I view art history and painting. Produced by magicians Penn & Teller, Tim’s Vermeer (DVD/Download) sets out to prove that Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer could have used a system of mirrors in order to paint photo-realistic masterworks. Simply put, it’s a 90-minute explanation of a magic trick. But even more than that, it’s a fascinating look at how technology and art can work together to create something beautiful.

When the film begins, my immediate impression of Tim is that he’s the insufferable party guest who wants to make sure everyone knows he’s the smartest one in the room. And when this non-artist starts the quest to reproduce Vermeer’s The Music Lesson using a camera obscura technique, he doubles down by trying to make the actual things in the painting before he paints it.  That’s great, but you know Vermeer wasn’t off in a corner grinding glass and sanding down chair legs. Tim seems a little showy. But then, once he gets into the painting, all the nonsense falls away. It’s just him, and the tiny details in the window fretwork, or the way the light is hitting a ceramic jug, and that’s when the real magic happens. He starts to see things the way an artist would, and this idea of ability becomes totally irrelevant.  It’s the vision that matters.

By the time Tim is finished painting every little knot in a woven rug, he’s pretty much had it with this painting. I couldn’t help but think that maybe he needed a cocktail to calm his jangled nerves. Let’s celebrate Dutch ingenuity with this simple Genever cocktail. If you’re like Tim, you’ll make your own Genever. I am not like Tim; the liquor store is my friend. While watching Tim’s Vermeer, I recommend drinking a Dutch Mule.

Dutch Mule

1.5 oz Genever

Ginger Beer

3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters

Slice of Lime

Build drink in a glass over ice, stirring gently to combine. Top with a few dashes of bitters, and garnish with a slice of lime.

Dutch mule

Sure, Vermeer was incredibly talented, and his compositions and colors were astounding. If he used a camera obscura, it doesn’t make me think less of him as a painter. If anything, I applaud him for using every tool at his disposal to create a magnificent work of art.  Think about that the next time you use an Instagram filter- aren’t we all just trying to communicate an idea in the truest or most interesting way possible?  I admit, my photo of a happy hour cocktail is no Girl With the Pearl Earring, but still-  that Juno filter makes it look pretty amazing.  Cheers!

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!