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Dead Poets Society

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Image credit: Dead Poets Society, 1989

If nothing else, the horror-show that is 2020 has proven once and for all that teachers are goddamn heroes. Often putting their lives and personal sanity at risk, they’ve had to work three times as hard this year to ensure that kids are not only educated, but comforted during these unprecedented, uncertain times. Even when faced with a laptop screen full of tiny faces, it’s up to them to make every child feel safe, and above all, seen. No movie has communicated the truth of this better than Dead Poet’s Society (Disc/Download).

A perfect pick for Fall viewing, Peter Weir’s film opens on a bucolic New England boarding school just as the leaves are starting to change. The boys who inhabit these drafty buildings want so badly to be men, and it isn’t until they meet their new English professor Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) that they start to learn what that truly means. You see, Mr. Keating doesn’t just teach them poetry. He teaches them to be brave, to inhabit the world with honor, and that feelings and emotions matter. To me, this shows what an important role a great teacher can play in one’s life. At the end of it all, you might not remember what a quadratic equation is, or who wrote the words, “O Captain! My Captain!” but you’re damn sure going to remember the person who encouraged you to be curious about the world, and fearless in the face of adversity.

Because this movie gives me all the cozy New England vibes, I’ll be drinking a nice, warming apple brandy cocktail, perfect for poetry readings in caves. While watching Dead Poet’s Society, I recommend drinking this Captain’s Mule.

Captain’s Mule

1 ½ oz Calvados Apple Brandy

½ oz Lime Juice

3 dashes Angostura Bitters

6 oz Ginger Beer

Dried Apple for garnish

Place first three ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a copper mug filled with fresh ice. Top with ginger beer, and garnish with dried apple.

There have been a lot of great teachers in cinema, but out of all of them, John Keating is the one I most wish I’d had the pleasure of knowing. Someone to tell me that words are important, and to not be so afraid that my thoughts are worthless or embarrassing. If Cinema Sips is my barbaric YAWP!, then let it be heard. Cheers!

Sweet November

Sweet November

Image credit: Sweet November, 2001.

Is there honestly a better month than November?  Finally, the heat of the summer has broken, the fire pit gets used again, and as Americans, we get several days off to do nothing but eat, drink, and watch movies. This week’s film Sweet November (DVD/Download) couldn’t take place at any other time because the rest of our months aren’t nearly as perfect. Sweet January? I don’t think so.

Sweet November is the Lifetime-movie-with-actual-celebrities that made a star of Charlize Theron and fueled my decades-long crush on Keanu Reeves. So, points for that.  However, what self-respecting woman takes in loser men as a 30-day pet project, sleeps with them, turns them into reasonably dateable human beings, then sends them on their way? I know Charlize’s character is supposed to be a “free spirit”, but….. it’s a little gross. However I’m prepared to ignore all the other randos she’s shacked up with in the past because the one currently occupying her love nest is Keanu. Brash ad exec (it’s a HOT. DOG.) turned dreamy boyfriend who rescues puppies and croons “Time After Time” (badly), Keanu is proof that the love of a good woman can fix anyone. Without it, he could end up like super-villain Frank Langella. Frank kinda makes me cry here, along with the waitress. Damn he’s good.

To celebrate November and the sweetness of Keanu, I’ll be mixing up a drink with all the fall flavors. While watching Sweet November, I recommend drinking an Autumn Leaf.

Autumn Leaf

6 oz Austin Eastciders Spiced Cider

1.5 oz Pumpkin liqueur

Cinnamon stick for garnish

Build drink over crushed ice, stirring well to combine. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Autumn Leaf

For those looking for a rom-com with a happy ending, you may be disappointed with Sweet November. But to me, a tragic ending seems appropriate for a film heavily scored by Enya and featuring a plethora of knit shawls. It just… works. Like November, perfection never lasts. My advice: drink it up while you can! Cheers!

Dan in Real Life

Dan in Real Life

Image credit: Dan in Real Life, 2007

Fall is my favorite time of year, and not just because we’re finally entering Oscar-bait season at the multiplex. Rather, it’s a time I get to sit around my fire pit, drink spiced cocktails, and read a good book. If you’re looking for this feeling in cinema form, look no further than this week’s film Dan in Real Life (DVD/Download). Well-acted, well-written, and with enough charm to rival my favorite pair of fuzzy socks, it’ll put you in a seasonal mood in no time.

Dan in Real Life stars Steve Carell as a widowed advice columnist with three lovely, slightly resentful daughters. He takes his brood up to the family compound in Rhode Island for a weekend of crossword puzzles, pancakes, and chilly walks on the beach, only to be met with glares from his kids, pity from his siblings, and mild reproach from his parents. But then he encounters Juliette Binoche in a charming bookstore meet-cute and they hit it off like gangbusters…. until he realizes she’s already dating his brother. With a wonderful supporting cast including Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney, Alison Pill, and even Dane Cook in a surprisingly good performance, the movie sparkles with a rare combo of intelligence and sentimentality. I find myself wanting to be a long-lost cousin, visiting their lovely New England home for just a day. Even if it means I have to sleep in the laundry room.

A movie this sweet deserves a perfect Fall cocktail to go with it. There’s nothing that says Autumn quite like spiced apples, so while watching Dan in Real Life, I recommend drinking an Autumn Apple Sipper.

Autumn Apple Sipper

2 oz Dry Hard Cider

1 oz Sweet Retreat Apple Pie Liqueur

1/2 oz Spiced Rum

1 oz Honeycrisp Apple Cider

Pinch of Cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a mug over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a pinch of cinnamon.

Steve Carell is the rare comic actor who is equally talented in dramatic roles, and Dan in Real Life is the perfect showcase for both sides of this coin- he’s at once charming and morose, funny and forlorn. I guarantee his rendition of “Let My Love Open the Door” will break your heart, just a little. If you think by now you’ve seen everything this guy can do, plan to be surprised. Cheers!