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McCabe & Mrs. Miller

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Image credit: McCabe & Mrs. Miller, 1971

How do you make a Western that a pink-loving, romance-obsessed millennial female like me will actually enjoy? Easy.

  1. Fill it with gorgeous Leonard Cohen songs.
  2. Cast two of the most beautiful humans alive in 1971: Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.
  3. Make bath time fun again.
  4. Tell the costume department to invest in a really big fur coat. I’m talking massive. Make him look like a very fancy bear.

This week on Cinema Sips, I’m featuring the Robert Altman classic, McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Disc/Download). You won’t find a lot of Westerns on Cinema Sips because I’ve never been a fan of dust and dirt and long, lonely vistas; however, there’s something about McCabe & Mrs. Miller that hooks me. The modern music is certainly part of it, but I think it’s also the way ordinary realities are depicted. The characters speak like normal people, instead of holdovers from the Victorian era. They talk about real issues, like same-sex attraction, and menstruation, and what it is that humans really want on the edge of a barren frontier. It’s not sex and it’s not religion (despite the proliferation of brothels and churches); it’s comfort. In many cases, power.

I’m going to warn you, McCabe has truly heinous cocktail preferences. He enjoys a double whiskey with a raw egg, and frankly, seeing that yolk drop into the glass makes me want to vomit. Let’s make a tastier egg-white version instead, adding a little marmalade in honor of Mrs. Miller’s cockney roots. While watching McCabe & Mrs. Miller, I recommend drinking a Marmalade Whiskey Sour.

Marmalade Whiskey Sour

2 oz Bourbon

1 oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

½ oz Orange Marmalade

1 egg white

Combine ingredients in a shaker without ice first. Shake vigorously for thirty seconds, then add ice. Shake for another thirty seconds until chilled and frothy. Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice.

I’ll have to remember this movie when I’m sweltering through a Texas summer because one look at the snow-covered mining town makes the room feel ten degrees cooler. But even when the snow is falling outside, and the wind is howling, it’s still fun to snuggle up under a furry blanket, pour a drink, and contemplate whether any Western hero was ever as cool as John McCabe, before or since. Certainly, he was the best-dressed. Cheers!

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

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Image credit: Escape from the Planet of the Apes, 1971

To quote Romy and Michele, “I just get really happy when they finally let her shop.”

The “her” in this case is Dr. Zira, one of the greatest heroines in cinema history, and star of my favorite chapter within the Planet of the Apes franchise, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (Disc/Download). I’ve written about my love of these films before, but this week I’d like to go into more detail about why I’m so darn crazy about this particular one. Let’s unpack.

In my mind, I’ve given all the Apes movies simple descriptors. #1 is “the Charlton Heston”, #2 is “the weird one”, #4 is “the prison one”, and #5 is “the one with all the battles”. But #3 is the best of all because it’s “the Rege-Bev-Wilsh one”. That’s right, just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the Apes travel to Los Angeles, and somehow land themselves a cushy suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, a limo, and a fabulous shopping spree. Was Garry Marshall a secret Dr. Zira fan?? We’ll never know. But I like to think Zira and Vivian are cosmically linked in a more general sense. Both are strong, smart, and independent. Both have incredible fashion sense. Both drink too much champagne and get a little giggly. And both of them know how to love fiercely, with their whole hearts. Indeed, it’s this fierce love that makes #3 the most emotionally poignant Apes film in the series. Having fled Future Earth with her husband Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) before a nuclear explosion destroys the planet, Zira arrives in the past having all the answers about what’s to come. And what’s to come is not good for humans. The biggest threat arrives in the form of the unborn child of Zira and Cornelius, who is destined to be the link between humans and intelligent apes. The US government wants to destroy that link to save their own species, and thus Zira and Cornelius must take drastic measures to protect her pregnancy. Throw in Ricardo Montalbán as a kindhearted circus owner, plus a switched-at-birth plotline, and you’ve got one riveting soap opera of a movie.

Before you go thinking of this movie as a Sci-Fi Shakespearean tragedy, let me reassure you- it’s definitely got its silly moments. Such as the ’70s sitcom music playing over shopping montages, or the time Zira goes to a cocktail party and gets drunk on “Grape Juice Plus” (aka, champagne). For some reason, the humans seem to think apes love oranges, so maybe that’s the “plus” they’re referring to? Let’s try it and see. While watching Escape from the Planet of the Apes, I recommend drinking Grape Juice Plus.

Grape Juice Plus

1 oz Cointreau

3 oz Champagne

Orange twist or dried orange for garnish

Build drink in a champagne flute. Garnish with an orange twist or wheel.

It’s become a bit of a tradition in my house to watch the Apes movies over a long weekend in January, and it almost feels like the New Year doesn’t officially start until Dr. Zira shows up in a pink cape like some sort of brilliant psychology superhero. I’ve had a lot on my plate the last month (such as finishing a major home renovation, plus editing and promoting my upcoming novel!), so taking the opportunity to relax with a glass of bubbly and a great movie feels almost decadent. Dr. Zira, let’s just go ahead and reserve next year’s stay at the Rege-Bev-Wilsh now. I’ll bring the grape juice. Cheers!

In Bruges

Image Credit: In Bruges, 2008

Since 2022 is officially the year of “The Christmas That Wasn’t” (or as it’s sometimes called in my house, “Christ-maybe next year“), I’m officially making the switch to movies that take place around the holiday season but have very little to do with Christmas. In other words, I want to see my current life situation reflected back at me. Sure, there are twinkle lights as I’m driving down the street, but my house remains as dark and unfestive as this week’s pick In Bruges (Disc/Download).

Featuring the acting team of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and directed by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges is about two hit men on assignment in the medieval Belgian city of Bruges over the holidays. Sent by their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to murder a priest, things go awry when gunman Ray (Farrell) accidentally shoots someone he’s not supposed to. His mentor Ken (Gleeson) is then tasked with killing Ray, but he wrestles with questions of morality and the concept of redemption. Does Ray really deserve to die because of an accident? It’s a question that propels this dark comedy forward through strange encounters, strange accents, and a lot of Belgian beer.

Speaking of Belgian beer, I cracked open a bottle for this week’s drink and ended up pleasantly surprised by its versatility. I haven’t had a Lindemans Framboise lambic in ages, but as a cocktail topper, it’s aces. Think of it as a tart alternative to Prosecco or champagne. While watching In Bruges, I recommend drinking an Alcove.

Alcove

4 1/2 oz Lindemans Framboise

1 1/4 oz Gin

3/4 oz Cointreau

3/4 oz Ginger Liqueur

3/4 oz Lime Juice

Lime Wheel Garnish

Combine gin, Cointreau, ginger liqueur, and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with Lindemans Framboise and stir gently.

Coincidentally, the Farrell/Gleeson/McDonagh team is back this year with The Banshees of Inisherin, a film I sadly did not enjoy. Maybe the bar was set too high with In Bruges, or maybe I just prefer movies that have a plot. I’m thrilled Colin Farrell is back on everyone’s radar, yet I can’t help but be puzzled by how he ever left. He’s always been great! He was great in Tigerland, he was great in A Home at the End of the World, and he was great in In Bruges. Can we all just forget about Phone Booth and give this man, and his eyebrows, their well-deserved Oscar? Cheers!

A Merry Christmas Wish

Image credit: A Merry Christmas Wish, 2022

So far, my holiday season has been pretty lackluster. Not only are decorations nixed because of ongoing home renovations, but I haven’t had time to watch a single made-for-TV Christmas movie. It’s a TRAVESTY, I tell you! But for the sake of this blog, I managed to carve out 90-minutes to watch a flick that kept taunting me from the Hulu home screen, screaming, “Watch me!” Finally, I listened, and hit play on A Merry Christmas Wish.

As I’ve probably said before, I could write an entire dissertation on the lackluster male leads populating holiday movies. I call them “Potato Men”, as in they look like someone stuffed a beige potato into a Rudolph sweater. Shapeless, colorless, utterly forgettable. So naturally, the first thing that drew me to MCW was the presence of Cameron Mathison, an All My Children favorite from way back, and someone far too good looking to ever be confused with a Potato Man. Here, he plays a small-town charmer who’s been looking after the farm of a recently-deceased man; the same farm that’s just been inherited by the dead guy’s city slicker niece (Jill Wagner). A high-powered advertising exec, she gives herself two weeks to clean out her uncle’s house and throw one last holiday market, the Winter Wonderland, without succumbing to the charms of small town life. Spoiler alert: she fails miserably when she realizes she likes the looks of both Cameron, and knotty pine walls.

Something I can’t help noticing is how similar this movie is to my other favorite NYC ad exec-out-of-water story, Baby Boom. MCW is basically that, without the baby. But where Diane Keaton turns her marketing prowess to gourmet baby food, Jill Wagner shines a spotlight on local honey. This rosemary honey is perfect in a cocktail, so while you’re watching A Merry Christmas Wish, I recommend drinking a Rosemary Honey Old Fashioned.

Rosemary Honey Old Fashioned

3 oz Whiskey

1 oz Rosemary Honey Simple Syrup (boil ½ cup honey + ½ cup water + 2 rosemary sprigs, then cool)

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

1 Rosemary Sprig

Orange Garnish

Combine whiskey, rosemary honey, and bitters in a shaker with ice. Stir to chill and combine, then strain into a glass filled with a large ice cube or ball. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary, and dried orange.

Tasty cocktail inspiration aside, A Merry Christmas Wish features so many things I love in a holiday movie. Cookie baking! Baby goats! Wrong-for-you boyfriend who wants to tear down the farm and build condos! But the thing I love most is that it doesn’t succumb to the tired enemies-to-lovers plot that somehow never lives up to the gold standard of The Goodbye Girl. For once, our hero and heroine are not mean-spirited grumps until the Christmas spirit moves them. They are kind, fun, and flirty, and the only impediment to them running off into the sunset together are their jobs, not their personalities. If you ask me, kindness, and a little whiskey, are the best examples of the Christmas spirit. Cheers!

Black Christmas

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Image credit: Black Christmas, 1974

If nothing else, 2022 is the year I overcame my aversion to scary movies. Although I still wouldn’t call myself a “fan”, I’ve nevertheless grown to appreciate vintage horror for its humor, style, and great practical effects. So rather than watch the newer iterations of this week’s Black Christmas (Disc/Download), I’m going back to the original slasher flick of 1974.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “The call is coming from inside the house,” well then, you can thank Black Christmas for putting it into the lexicon. This Canadian film starring Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder is like a vintage Scream, with gaudy lights, shag carpeting, and a lot of booze. Just before Christmas break, a serial killer targets a sorority house, making obscene phone calls, watching and waiting to make his move. There are several long, tense sequences of the killer stalking his prey, followed by murder scenarios that are thematically pretty gruesome, if not visually. Overall, I enjoyed this movie immensely because it’s just so weird and funny in moments where one would expect the opposite. I’m not going to have nightmares of a dead sorority girl covered in plastic, holding a creepy baby doll; I’m going to have nightmares about her patterned curtains.

One of the best things about Black Christmas is house mother Mrs. MacHenry, or “Mrs. Mac” to her friends. She’s got all kinds of exciting hiding places for her liquor, including hollowed out books and a toilet tank! Let’s give a proper toast to the woman who’s always “hanging around”, or better yet, make it a eulogy. While watching Black Christmas, I recommend drinking this Macintosh apple riff on a Dark & Stormy- a Mac Attack.

Mac Attack

1 1/2 oz Largo Bay Apple Spiced Rum

1 oz Apple Cider

1/4 oz Lemon Juice

1 dash of Angostura Bitters

Ginger Beer

Dried lemon slice

Combine rum, apple cider, lemon juice, and bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Top with ginger beer, and a dried lemon slice.

I applaud a film that keeps me guessing, and Black Christmas managed to surprise me right through to the end. Sure, there were plenty of moments where I yelled at the dumb girl on the screen, but the truth is, none of us can predict how we’d react in scary situations. I like to think I wouldn’t move closer to the closet where I’d just heard a strange noise; that I would instead run away like a normal human with a shred of self-preservation instincts, but who knows? All I’ll say is, if I go missing, check the attic. Cheers!

Confess, Fletch

Image credit: Confess, Fletch, 2022

If you want to know the key to my heart, it’s quite simple—puns. Specifically, puns delivered by a very handsome man in a very beautiful location. Confess, Fletch (Download) ticks all those boxes by hiring Jon Hamm to play my beloved wisecracking I.M. Fletcher, and sending him to the Eternal City, Rome. Add a plethora of cocktails and a fantastic jazzy soundtrack, and you’ve got the perfect Cinema Sips watch.

I covered the original Chevy Chase film a few months back, so imagine my delight to discover the franchise was getting rebooted with my favorite Mad Men star in the lead role. Hamm has phenomenal comedic timing, and his facial expressions alone had me snorting my drink. As with the other Fletch movies, the plot is beside the point. I could tell you all about how he’s trying to track down some stolen paintings while being framed for murder, but outlandish plots are not why I watch these movies. I watch them for the clever scripts, the wordplay, and the disguises. In fact, Confess, Fletch features one of the best aliases in the history of the franchise, and yes, I’m talking about “Mr. Locke”. Maybe I’m partial, but… it’s a great name.

As for the drinks, this movie has a plethora of cocktail inspiration. Aperol Spritzes and Negronis are solid options for celebrating the Dolce Vita portion of the film, but I prefer to keep it simple. Whether you’re fending off the advances of an Italian countess or catching up with your old pal from Sterling Cooper, only a Vodka Gimlet will do.

Vodka Gimlet

2 oz Vodka

¾ oz Lime Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a slice of lime.

If you’re looking for a fun, silly night at home, allow me to officially endorse Confess, Fletch. And with the addition of a tasty gimlet? Five stars. Definitely, five stars. Cheers!

Barton Fink

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Image credit: Barton Fink, 1991

Here we are again, with another “writer in a hotel” movie. I promise, Jack Nicholson does not pop out with an ax this time, though the bathrooms are decided less glamorous at the Hotel Earle. Barton Fink (Disc/Download) was a new-to-me Coen Brothers movie prior to this week, but it’s quickly risen up the ranks to Hail, Caesar! levels of adoration. A movie about a neurotic writer in the Golden Age of Hollywood? Definitely my catnip.

John Turturro plays our titular character Barton Fink, a rising New York playwright who gets chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood studio system. He heeds the siren call of Los Angeles, accepting the assignment of writing a wrestling movie that’s completely out of his wheelhouse, but something he’s powerless to decline. Once in town, he moves into a creepy rundown hotel next to a fascist serial killer and soon begins an affair with the assistant to his liquored-up literary hero. I’ll just say right now, John Mahoney as the Falkner-esque W.P. Mayhew is one of my favorite things about this film, and I wish he’d had more screen time. But I digress. One of my other favorite elements is the production design, which looks straight out of classics like Casablanca or Heaven Can Wait. Barton’s apartment might be a nightmare, but the rest of Tinseltown never looked better.

Barton has a lot of meetings over drinks (as any good writer would), so this seems like a great movie to watch with a cocktail. Let’s honor the wordsmiths of the world, toiling away on projects they may or may not ever finish, with this tasty concoction, the Last Word.

Last Word

1 oz Gin

1 oz Maraschino Liqueur

1 oz Green Chartreuse

1 oz Lime Juice

Luxardo Maraschino cherry

Combine gin, liqueurs, and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry.

I already know Barton Fink will be a movie I’ll want to watch again and again, in an effort to catch all the tiny details and nods to Hollywood’s golden era. Like that painting on Barton’s sweating wall, I can’t help but think there’s even more to this picture than meets the eye. Cheers!

The Shining

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Image credit: The Shining, 1980

I always thought the scariest place a person could be is in The Overlook Hotel with a murderous Jack Nicholson and a whole bunch of angry ghosts. Not to mention, those hallways of hypnotic carpet patterns! But that was until I made the decision to renovate my home. A decision which has forced me to become trapped, in increasingly smaller spaces, as the days and weeks bleed into one another. Suddenly, this quote from The Shining (Disc/Download) makes so much sense: “A kind of claustrophobic reaction which can occur when people are shut in together over long periods of time.” Let’s just say, I’m looking increasingly vacant-eyed over my keyboard. The dog is calling out to Scatman Crothers.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, inspired by his own stay at a Colorado resort (the Estes Park Hotel, which I can personally say is quite lovely… in the summer). Jack Torrance (Nicholson) moves his wife and son to a remote hotel for the winter, accepting the job of caretaker. As a writer, he thinks an empty resort will be the perfect spot to work on his novel. However, the ghosts of the hotel have other plans for the Torrance family. Slowly, Jack begins to go mad, while his telekinetic son senses the presence of the hotel’s previous dead occupants. Little Danny has a touch of “the shining”, just as the hotel itself “shines”. There are a lot of hallucination scenes in this, several times involving a bathroom. I too have been hallucinating a bathroom during long stretches of isolation, so this part of the film makes sense to me. When Jack and I dream, we dream of a beautiful, spacious retreat fit for a luxury hotel. My nightmare is that I’m as old as the decaying woman in Room 237 by the time my soaking tub gets installed, but that’s probably just the claustrophobia talking. Surely, my contractor will get his act together by then.

Another dream sequence involves one of my favorite movie bars, host to many glamorous parties throughout The Overlook’s storied history. Lloyd the bartender may have served up a mean Bourbon and Advocaat, but I prefer to take my cocktail cue from Danny. While watching The Shining, I recommend drinking this variation on the Negroni, a Redrum cocktail.

Redrum

1 oz Dark Spiced Rum

1 oz Campari

1 oz Sweet Vermouth

Blood orange slice

Combine rum, Campari, and vermouth in a mixing tin with ice. Stir until chilled, then strain into a glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a slice of blood orange.

If you’re not typically a Negroni drinker, this may change your mind. Rum gives the cocktail a sweeter, spicier edge, and I actually prefer this to its gin-based cousin. It’s the perfect drink to toast five miserable months of home renovation, and the irreparable harm it has caused me. Cheers!

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

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Image credit: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

When I start to feel fatigued by feel-good sibling stories, I turn to movies that show us the darker side of familial bonds. After all, sisters don’t always perform cute song-and-dance numbers like Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in White Christmas.  Sometimes, sisters are merely two women who share some DNA and nothing else. And then there’s a darker sub-category, exclusively reserved for the Hudson sisters in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Disc/Download).

This film had been on my watch list for a long time, and I finally took the plunge last summer after watching Ryan Murphy’s Feud miniseries. Surely, I thought, the movie isn’t nearly as bonkers as the making of the movie. Oh, how wrong I was. With over-the-top performances from Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, this tale of an aging child actress imprisoning (and torturing) her paraplegic sister in a Hollywood mansion is equal parts scary and campy. With a perfect blend of horror and suspense, the audience is taken on Baby Jane’s journey into madness, as resentment turns to homicidal rage. Davis’s clown makeup is truly terrifying, and she’s absolutely brilliant in the role of a washed-up vaudeville star. Crawford provides the melodrama, as intense as those trademark eyebrows. I’m sure Blanche was probably wishing she’d invested in an elevator before her little sister went crazy, however after a recent viewing of Olivia De Havilland in Lady in a Cage, I’m rethinking that idea. Baby Jane looks like the type to cut the power.

As many people are aware, Joan Crawford was not just an actress, but also a cola executive! Through her marriage to Pepsi-Cola’s president and CEO, she held a seat on the board of directors and often shilled the beverage in print ads and appearances. This week, I’m making a drink in honor of “Miss Pepsi” herself. While watching What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, I recommend drinking this Paralyzer cocktail.

Paralyzer

4 oz Pepsi

1 oz Coffee Liqueur

1 oz Vanilla Vodka

2 oz Milk

1 Maraschino cherry

Fill a glass with ice, and pour in the Pepsi. In a shaker, combine coffee liqueur, vodka, and milk. Gently pour over the Pepsi slowly. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

This drink definitely seems like something Jane would’ve enjoyed while posing next to her lookalike doll, or perhaps carried on a silver tray for her big sis. I don’t know how well it pairs with “dead rat”, but if you’re #teamCoke like me, you’ll still get a good scream. Cheers!

Beetlejuice

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Image credit: Beetlejuice, 1988

This week, I’m proud to say I conquered a major fear. In re-watching Beetlejuice (Disc/Download), I confronted one of my life’s main recurring nightmares, in which I’m walking through a Caligari-esque hallway of doors, not sure what’s on the other side. Is it a sandworm? Is it a room full of ugly post-modern Michael Graves furniture? Is it Michael Keaton in racoon clown makeup? I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve woken up screaming in the last thirty years.

Speaking of Michael Keaton, I don’t even want to admit how old I was before I realized that the same actor played Mr. Mom, Batman, AND aggressive bio-exorcist Beetlejuice. The man is a chameleon. Revisiting this movie as an adult, it’s amazing to see the high-caliber cast director Tim Burton pulled together. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis play ghosts trying to force a brash New York family (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara giving MAJOR Moira Rose vibes) out of their charming Connecticut home. Winona Ryder plays the goth daughter of the interlopers, with stellar lines such as “My whole life is a dark room.” Same, girl. Eventually getting more and more desperate, the ghosts call on Beetlejuice to help them drive the city slickers away for good, which causes more problems than they’d bargained on. The special effects and makeup are pretty impressive, and a big part of what makes this movie so fun for kids (unless you were a scaredy-cat like me). But as an adult, I’m still terrified of the afterlife’s waiting room. It’s more of an existential fear than a jump scare, but still just as effective.

My favorite scenes include some delightful Harry Belafonte calypso tracks, so we may as well “Jump in the Line” with this Caribbean-inspired cocktail. With a green tint that matches Beetlejuice’s hair, this will definitely put you in the mood for Halloween hijinks. While watching Beetlejuice, I recommend drinking this Day-O the Dead cocktail.

Day-O the Dead

1 ½ oz Rhum Agricole (or silver rum)

1 oz Midori

1 oz Lime Juice

1 ½ oz Pineapple Juice

¼ oz Coconut Cream

Gummi worms for garnish

Combine Rhum, Midori, lime and pineapple juices, and coconut cream in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a gummi worm.

Although the live action Beetlejuice scared the bejeezus out of me as a small child, I had a standing date with the animated series for many years. I guess cartoon poltergeists are just less threatening. And Lydia, oh Lydia—you have my dark heart forever. Cheers!