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The Days of Wine and Roses

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Days of Wine and Roses

Image credit: The Days of Wine and Roses, 1962.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching rom-coms and writing books with that all-important Happily Ever After, but this February, I’m planning a deep dive into the tragic romance genre. I want to celebrate those tear-jerker movies that leave you gutted, but nevertheless believing in the all-consuming power of love. This week, I’m subjecting myself to a serious punch to the face by watching The Days of Wine and Roses (Disc/Download).

I’ll be honest, when I hit play on this film, I was expecting something much different than what I got. I thought Blake Edwards + Henry Mancini + Jack Lemmon = a romantic comedy with great music and fabulous party scenes. Well, I got the music, parties, and romance, but there’s nothing funny about this movie about two alcoholics struggling to get sober. Like Reefer Madness before it, and Leaving Las Vegas decades after, this is a film that will make you want to give up all your vices and just stay home with a glass of water. It strays a little too far into propaganda-territory for Alcoholics Anonymous, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a powerful film about loving someone who can’t love themselves. Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick give powerhouse performances as a doomed husband and wife who fall on and off the wagon multiple times, and when each subsequent fall is from a greater height, you start to really ache for them. You hope that their love is enough to help them through this, but eventually, it becomes clear—it might not be.

When the film begins, Lee Remick is a teetotaler, until she meets the sweet, drunken charmer Jack Lemmon and his Brandy Alexander‘s. One sip, and it’s all downhill. You could certainly enjoy that cocktail with her, but this film is also a great excuse to use rosewater. Especially when Jack Lemmon is tearing through a greenhouse looking for the bottle he stashed in a plant. It’s so moving, you can almost smell the soil, roses, and bitter stench of cheap booze. While watching The Days of Wine and Roses, I recommend this Wilted Rose Martini. (But seriously- just one, dear reader.)

Wilted Rose Martini

2 ½ oz Lemon Vodka

½ oz Elderflower Liqueur

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz simple syrup

3 drops Rosewater

Lemon Twist

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

Wilted Rose Martini

I count my lucky stars that I’m able to have only one or two cocktails and call it a night. I know how slippery that slope is for many people, and this film gives me empathy for their struggle. The ending is ambiguous, and we don’t know if either of these people will ever stay clean. But I have hope that they do—I believe in love, and I believe that people can conquer their demons.  Maybe there’s a Happily Ever After still to come. Cheers!

That Funny Feeling

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That Funny Feeling

Image credit: That Funny Feeling, 1965.

If I had to describe my favorite film genre, I’d have to say, “anything with 1960’s cocktail dresses”.   Even before Mad Men came on the scene, I was already obsessed.  Blame Doris Day, blame Sandra Dee– so many wonderful actresses took me down that A-line chiffon rabbit hole.  This week, I’ll be watching one of my favorites in the “pretty dress” canon, That Funny Feeling (Disc/Download).

Starring Sandra Dee and her then-husband, crooner Bobby Darin, That Funny Feeling follows the familiar Pillow Talk formula that worked so well for Doris and Rock. Sandra’s character Joan is a maid/struggling actress, who meets cute with Bobby Darin’s lothario character Tom, never realizing that he owns the apartment she cleans every morning. His trip gets cancelled, right after Joan allows him to escort her home to “her place”, which is actually his place! He has to move in with a friend (Donald O’Connor, in a truly bizarre role), to maintain the charade, during which time she covers his leather sofa with chintz slipcovers and hawks his suits– I’m still not sure why. Maybe so we can enjoy the sight gag of Bobby Darin climbing down a New York City fire escape in nothing but a plaid parka?   Strange plot devices aside, this movie is full of beautiful cocktail dresses, gin, midcentury interior décor, vintage stereo equipment, and sassy best friends. That’s enough to sell me on even the worst movie.

Sandra Dee is a classy lady in this film, allowing Bobby Darin to buy her gin and quinine that she takes one lousy sip of. Until later, when she has (oh dear!) a FULL GLASS and gets hammered. You can certainly watch this movie with a gin and tonic (I like the quinine ratio in Jack Rudy Tonic Syrup), but I also want to highlight the scene where her roommate dumps a bunch of brandy and Cointreau on a roast duck and lights it up with her cigarette. God, I love the 60’s. While watching That Funny Feeling, I recommend drinking a Big Apple Sidecar.

Big Apple Sidecar

1 ½ oz Calvados Apple Brandy

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz spiced apple cider

1 oz lime juice

½ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

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

big apple sidecar

I will admit, there’s a cringe-inducing part of this film where Sandra Dee pretends to have a Japanese accent. It’s bad. It’s very, very bad. However, the script does lament the pervasive white-washing of Hollywood, much to my surprise. That’s the thing about these Sandra Dee movies- they may look all fluffy and retro on the surface, but dig deep and you’ll find some thoroughly modern problems.  After all, sometimes even the best cocktails need a little sweet to balance the bitter. Cheers!

Leap of Faith

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Leap of Faith

Image Credit: Leap of Faith, 1992

I feel a healing coming on– of the cocktail variety!  Get ready for a 90’s blast from the past as Cinema Sips watches Leap of Faith (Download), that gospel-heavy movie where Steve Martin jogs in a belly shirt and cowboy hat, with zero irony. There is a God!

Faith is an important aspect of life for many people, but unfortunately, organized religion can also be a breeding ground for con artists and predators. Jonas Nightingale is of the con artist variety, a slick-tongued preacher promising prosperity to the downtrodden. He travels the Midwest with a bus load of accomplices, setting up a game of smoke and mirrors for people who have a lot of faith, but not much else.  Giving them a good show, he makes them believe in the power of the Lord, then lines his pockets with their hard-earned cash. One could say he’s not unlike certain politicians, feeding off the economic hardships of their constituents, but that’s an argument for another time. As Jonas, Steve Martin is charismatic, dark, and one hell of a showman. Liam Neeson’s well-meaning sheriff doesn’t stand a chance.

The reason these poor townspeople are ready and eager to believe in Nightingale’s “healing power” is the ongoing drought that threatens to ruin their corn crops. Living in Texas, I know the feeling of praying for rain (and I also know the feeling of praying for it to stop… ahem ATX water contamination 2018). Plus, corn is pretty important, if for no other reason than moonshine. While watching Leap of Faith, I recommend drinking a Sunday School Collins.

Sunday School Collins

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

1 ½ oz corn whiskey

4 oz club soda

Combine whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a rocks filled glass. Top with club soda, stir gently to combine.

sunday school

“Our Lady of Immaculate Queso” by Heartless Machine (heartless machine.com)

The real standout element in this film is the music. From the opening notes of Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” to rousing gospel numbers, it’s no wonder it later received the Broadway treatment. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, this film will make you want to get up and dance. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to believe in the impossible.  Cheers!

The Darjeeling Limited

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the darjeeling limited

Image credit: The Darjeeling Limited, 2007

Trains are pretty fascinating if you stop to think about it. Depending on which seat you choose, you have the ability to look forward or backward in time, contemplating how the past will influence the future, and how your present is just a brief stopping point on the journey to somewhere else. In this week’s film The Darjeeling Limited (Disc/Download), three brothers do just that on a sleeper car through India. Grab your savoury snacks and teapot- it’s time to dig deep.

Perfectly placed within the Wes Anderson film canon, The Darjeeling Limited features familiar elements like vintage luggage, perfectly tailored suits in various states of dishevelment, a place for everything/everything in its place, and a lot of paterfamilias drama. As three brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody) grapple with their father’s death and their mother’s abandonment, they reexamine their relationships with one another to figure out where they went off the rails (pun intended). The Darjeeling Limited train is pretty much the only way I would ever travel through India, and only if it was designed by Wes Anderson. I thought I was partial to the 20th Century Limited in North by Northwest, but the Darjeeling Limited has a quirky exoticism to it I can’t resist. Plus- SAVOURY SNACKS!

During the summer, I would definitely watch this film with a sweet lime gimlet (recipe here).  But during the winter, a toddy feels more appropriate.  With exotic spices and flavors, this drink will make you feel transported to the sunny, hot climate of India.  While watching The Darjeeling Limited, I recommend drinking a Darjeeling Toddy.

Darjeeling Toddy

1 bag Darjeeling tea

1 cup boiling water

1 oz dark spiced rum

1 oz cognac

1 Tbsp honey

1 small piece dried ginger

2 tsp lemon juice

1 lemon wedge

Combine water, rum, and cognac in a saucepan, and drop in tea bag and ginger to steep. After about 5 minutes, discard tea bag and ginger, then stir in honey. Strain mixture into a mug, and add the lemon juice. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

darjeeling toddy

There’s such a romance to trains that it’s easy to see why they’re still featured in cinema, even when they’re no longer a part of most people’s itineraries.  In an era of depressing air travel and trying to get somewhere as fast as possible, it’s nice to watch people slowing down to experience the journey itself. Cheers!

Splash

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splash

Image credit: Splash, 1984.

I know I’m supposed to care about modern underwater extravaganzas like Aquaman, but the truth is I’ve never gotten over my first deep-sea movie love:  Splash (Disc/Download).  Even The Little Mermaid pales in comparison to this delightful Tom Hanks/Daryl Hannah rom-com about a man who falls in love with a mermaid.  Funny and charming, with some pretty impressive fishtail effects, this film is a sea fantasy come to life.

When I was young, I totally wanted to be Daryl Hannah.  Alas, all the Morton’s salt in the world couldn’t turn my legs to scales and my hair into a soft, flowing nest of crimped perfection.  As mermaid Madison, she learns English in a single afternoon by watching daytime TV, goes on a Bloomingdale’s shopping spree, and somehow learns how to ice skate despite the fact that she’s never seen ice before.  Plus, she makes the wise decision early on to fall for Tom Hanks.  He’s the kind of guy who offers to get her a hotel room, even after she’s slept with him, because he knows their afternoon delight DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY OBLIGATE HER TO DO MORE.  He’s the kind of guy who keeps fish tanks in every room because he’s never gotten over the mermaid who saved him as a little boy.  And he’s the kind of guy who will give up a lifetime of John Candy’s jokes for his one true love.  This man is a keeper.

Speaking of John Candy, he plays Hanks’ off-color, sleazy brother with a schlubby, good-hearted charm.  Sure he’s a walking sexual harassment lawsuit, but he also dispenses wisdom like, “Drinking is a matter of algebraic ratio.  It’s not that you had too much to drink; it’s that you’re too skinny.”  SO TRUE.  While watching Splash, capture the flavor of the ocean with some Himalayan Salt shot glasses, and this tasty cocktail:

SALTWATER SHOT

2 oz Citron Vodka

1 oz Orange Liqueur

1 oz Lime Juice

Lime Wedge

Combine vodka, orange liqueur, and lime juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then pour into Himalayan Salt glasses.  Garnish with a lime wedge.

saltwater shots

Rumor has it this film is being remade with a gender swap, but I’ll always love the original because it celebrates a mermaid who doesn’t have to change herself to fit into a man’s world.  Her world is pretty awesome already, and if a guy wants to be with her, he’s just going to have to hang out underwater and kiss her constantly for the rest of his life.  Now THAT’S a happily ever after.  Cheers!

Top Five Films of 2018

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Here’s the thing:  I’m in love with love.  Lucky for me, 2018 was a banner year for romance at the multiplex.  From rom-coms to dramas to YA adaptations, this was the first year in a long time where it felt like movies were being made for a 35-year old woman raised on John Hughes and Meg Ryan, and not teenage boys raised on video games and comic books.  Sure, those movies were there, but for once it felt like women had been given a seat at the table.  Most of my favorite movies will probably not make it onto any other critic’s best-of list.  And that’s okay with me.  But if you’re really into romance, great storytelling, and cool set design, you’ll be happy with these picks.  Let’s raise a glass to my Top Five Films of 2018!

1.  A Star is Born

A Star is Born

Image credit: A Star is Born, 2018.

Never in a million years did I think this movie needed to be remade.  Judy and James did it perfectly, Barbra and Kris stunk the place up, and….I’ll admit to never seeing the very first one.  But Bradley and Gaga-  WOW.  So much romance, so much great music, so much tragedy- even the large man behind me in the audience let out a heaving sob.  My favorite movie this year (perhaps in several years).

2.  Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Image credit: Can You Ever Forgive Me?, 2018

This picture says it all.  Literary forgeries, Melissa McCarthy in her bravest role to date, and a sad, touching friendship with the most charismatic man in New York City.  Perfection from the very first word.

3.  Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians

Image credit: Crazy Rich Asians, 2018.

Kevin Kwan’s book trilogy was one of my favorite literary joys of the past decade, so let’s just say my expectations for this film were high.  I’m happy to report that I loved every second of this frothy cocktail of a film, and can’t wait for the sequel.  More Kitty Pong!!

4.  Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale

Image credit: Bad Times at the El Royale, 2018.

Not much romance here, but the mid-century sets more than made up for it.  I want to check into the El Royale and stay awhile.  Particularly if shirtless Chris Hemsworth is there trying to sign me up for his cult. I’m in!

5.  To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

to all the boys i've loved before

Image Credit: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, 2018.

This YA adaptation gave me all the feels, proving to Netflix that the market for romance is alive and well.  Plus, Noah Centineo pretty much made my year when he saved that bowl of popcorn.  Swoon!

 

Boogie Nights

boogie nights

Image credit: Boogie Nights, 1997.

It finally happened- my weekly Cinema Sips post is dropping on the booziest night of the year!  New Year’s Eve deserves a movie featuring disco dancing, kung fu fighting, alcohol and drug-fueled parties in the San Fernando Valley, and a main character with a name so cool it cuts glass. It’s time to watch Boogie Nights (Disc/Download).

This is a great movie for New Year’s Eve because the holiday acts as a touchstone within this meandering tale of the 1970’s pornography industry. Things are rosy for a while– newcomer Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg, in a star-making role) joins a dysfunctional “family” of porn stars, makes a lot of money from his greatest, er… asset, and buys a lot of kooky stuff. As you do. But then the ball drops on 1980 and things spiral out of control. The drugs get harder, certain other things get softer (ahem), and the misfit family splinters. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson manages to transport his audience to a time and place that’s so specific, it’s as though the characters are trapped in amber.  Even sin looks beautiful under his filter.

One of my favorite scenes involves John C. Reilly’s character Reed Rothchild displaying his bartender skills at a pool party. I have no idea how much tequila he pours in that blender, but it really doesn’t matter; the man is my mixologist hero. Let’s toast this Shakespearean tragedy of a film with a New Year’s twist on an old favorite. While watching Boogie Nights, I recommend drinking a Frozen Amber Margarita.

Frozen Amber Margarita

4 oz silver tequila

2 oz Triple Sec

2 oz fresh lime juice

2 oz blood orange cocktail mix (I use Stirrings)

1 oz Aperol

1 cup Ice

Sparkling Wine

Combine tequila, triple sec, lime juice, Aperol, and cocktail mix in a blender with ice. Blend until frothy, then pour into a champagne flute. Top with Sparkling Wine.

Frozen Amber margarita

New Year’s Eve is always such a strange night. It’s full of hope and reflection, maybe sadness and joy. Wherever you’re at with this holiday, just know that whatever happens in the coming year, you’re gonna be okay. There are movies to watch, there are cocktails to drink, and I’m excited that we get to do it together through Cinema Sips. Cheers!