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Love & Mercy

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Love & Mercy

Image credit: Love & Mercy, 2014.

The above photo says it all. I cannot resist 1960’s California modern architecture and will watch literally any movie that features it. Lucky for me, Brian Wilson apparently owned a seriously cool house, straight out of Blake Edward’s The Party. Wilson also wrote some great songs with The Beach Boys, but let’s be clear- I’m here for his swimming pool. Grab your sunblock and antidepressants—we’re watching Love & Mercy (Disc/Download).

As far as music biopics go, this one doesn’t follow the standard formula. Switching back and forth between 1960’s and 1980’s Brian Wilson, the film stars Paul Dano and John Cusack as two versions of the same complicated man. In the heyday of The Beach Boys, he was the mad genius behind so many of their hits, crying out for help in his lyrics, with a family unwilling and/or unable to see that he needed serious medical attention. By the time the 1980’s hit, he’d lost a brother, spent a decade in bed, and hooked up with crooked doctor Eugene Landy (played by a villainous Paul Giamatti). Shuffling through life like a sad, lonely child, he’s trapped in a haze of pharmaceuticals until he meets Cadillac saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks), who helps him find a way out from under Landy’s control. While Paul Dano gets the splashier role of young Brian, mixing it up in the studio and harmonizing over Pet Sounds, John Cusack’s performance is so quiet and lovely you almost miss it. The romance he shares with Melinda makes you feel like this is what he’d been singing about all that time– he just didn’t know it yet. God only knows what he’d be without her.

Although I love the ‘60s aesthetic in half of the movie, I also adore Elizabeth Banks going full-on ‘80s with her hot-rolled hair and pastel sweaters. If this lady were a cocktail, she would be something light, refreshing, and sweet. She would be a Sea Breeze.

Sea Breeze

1 ½ oz Vodka

4 oz Cranberry Juice

1 oz grapefruit juice

Lime Wedge

Combine vodka, cranberry, and grapefruit juices in a shaker with ice.  Shake until well mixed, then dump entire contents of shaker into a glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

The real Brian Wilson is still touring the country, packing venues full of middle-aged men in Hawaiian shirts and one very nostalgic Liz Locke. And good for him! Between this film, his records, and those concerts, I’m left with nothing but Good Vibrations, and a Smile. Cheers!

Duets

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Image Credit: Duets, 2000

Image Credit: Duets, 2000

When my husband requested a pairing with the movie Duets (DVD/Download), I laughed until I realized he was serious. I’m pretty sure everyone in the world has forgotten that this Bruce Paltrow oddball of a movie ever existed, but after screening it again, I’m officially ready to start the campaign to turn this into the newest cult classic. I think it could be the next Wet Hot American Summer or Gentlemen Broncos, if enough people get bored and curious enough to watch it. What other movie out there features Gwyneth Paltrow, HUEY LEWIS, Paul Giamatti, Andre Braugher, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Scott Speedman, Angie Dickinson, John Pinette, AND Michael Buble???

The only place in which all of these seemingly random entertainers could co-exist is in the karaoke arena. Having just tried karaoke for the first time myself a few weeks ago, I see how it can happen. You have a couple drinks (or, okay, maybe half a bottle of pink champagne), you enter a small dark room filled with total strangers, random people get up and start singing “Rapture” and “Rocket Man”, and eventually, you’re up there, belting out the high notes on Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You”. It’s fun and addictive, and if you never see these karaoke strangers again for the rest of your life, who cares? That’s kind of what happens in Duets. All of these random souls converge at a karaoke contest, and suddenly you have John Pinette belting out “Copacabana” in front of Gwyneth Paltrow, while Paul Giamatti sits nearby wearing a George Michael earring, and Huey Lewis waits his turn to go up and sing THE WORST songs in the movie. Seriously, how did they give the one professional singer of the bunch stinkers like “Lonely Teardrops”? Paltrow and Giamatti hold their own, and as much as Ms. Goop annoys me, her duet of “Cruisin’” with Huey Lewis is pretty solid (it even went to #1 on the Australian music charts!). But wow- Paul Giamatti. Who knew he had such a voice? This movie is worth watching, if only to see him channel Otis Redding.

For a movie like Duets, I had to pick a two ingredient cocktail. Think of it as a duet in a glass- two simple ingredients, making beautiful music together. I also wanted to choose a beverage that I might actually drink in a karaoke bar. Something strong enough to get me on stage, but easy enough that even a bartender at the seediest bar in Omaha could manage it. While watching Duets, I recommend drinking a Whiskey Ginger.

Whiskey Ginger

1.5 oz Jack Daniels Whiskey

3 oz Ginger Ale or Ginger Beer

Lime wedge

Pour the whiskey and ginger ale into a glass over ice. Give it a generous squeeze of lime, then top with the lime wedge.

Whiskey Ginger

Although the plot and pacing of Duets leaves a lot to be desired, I was thoroughly entertained for 2 hours while waiting to see which rando celebrities would make an appearance. Does it make me want to get back into a karaoke room? Not really. Does it give me newfound appreciation for 80’s pop star Huey Lewis? Absolutely. Cheers!

Sideways

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Image credit Fox Searchlight, 2004, Sideways

Image credit Fox Searchlight, 2004, Sideways

This week on Cinema Sips, I’m veering off of cocktails for a moment to talk about wine. I had the good fortune to spend a day visiting wineries around Napa and Yountville, CA last week, and while there, I realized that pretty much all of my knowledge of wine comes from the movie Sideways (DVD/Download). I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but at least I wasn’t going in to this experience completely clueless. This film forces me to appreciate and consider the complexity of what I’m drinking. Truly, it’s a love letter to the art of winemaking and oenophiles. That said, I made sure to watch this movie again before leaving on my trip, so that if confronted with a Cab Franc, I’d know that it is not, in fact, a French taxi.

Sideways is about two longtime friends who take off on a pre-wedding trip to California’s wine country. Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a depressed divorcée who is struggling with getting his novel published (sadly, a powerless, defeating process I am all too familiar with). Thomas Haden Church plays Jack, a has-been actor and playboy who is struggling with the idea of being tied down to one woman for the rest of his life. They’re certainly an odd couple, but they play off each other brilliantly. While there, Miles falls for a lovely waitress and fellow lonely heart Maya (played surprisingly well by B-movie actress Virginia Madsen), while Jack lies about his single status and fools around with her friend Stephanie (played by Sandra Oh). The four of them laugh, picnic, tour the vineyards and sip Pinot Noir as the sun sets, creating an idyllic world before it all eventually comes crashing down. The scenery is beautiful, and the script and acting are absolutely top notch. In fact, when I watched this last week, I had to pause a scene so I could turn to my husband and remark, “My God, Paul Giamatti is such an incredible actor.” The fact that he failed to even be nominated for an Academy Award for this performance is widely considered to be one of the top snubs in Oscar history.

On my trip, I visited the Clos du Val winery, Ma(i)sonry (where I sampled some excellent rosé from Blackbird Vineyards and viewed hideously expensive art), and finally ended with wonderful sparkling varietals at Domaine Chandon.  Below are some photos I took of the lush scenery and (more importantly) the wine!

The Silverado Trail

The Silverado Trail

Picnic grounds of the Clos du Val Vineyard

Picnic grounds of the Clos du Val Vineyard

Clos du Val wine- an excellent Sauvignon Blanc!

Clos du Val wine- an excellent Sauvignon Blanc!

Picnic food, Napa style.  Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, fresh blackberries, cherry tomatoes, bread, salami- YUM!

Picnic food, Napa style. Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, fresh blackberries, cherry tomatoes, bread, salami- YUM!

Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine from Domaine Chandon- my favorite of the day!

Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine from Domaine Chandon- my favorite of the day!

After a day of wine drinking, I was happy, parched, and still a little buzzed. Did I drink any merlot? I’ll never tell ;-). I urge you to watch this movie with some friends and a few bottles of wine, and really make a night of it. So often with cocktails, I find myself sipping way too quickly, particularly if it’s a sweeter drink, and I fail to really experience the flavors that have gone into the beverage. Wine doesn’t let you get away with that. It’s meant to be tasted, savored, and contemplated. As Virginia Madsen so beautifully says in Sideways, “If I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day.” Sometimes I think the same thing about films. I react differently each time I watch the same movie, noticing little moments I hadn’t seen before, and maybe relating it to what is presently happening in my own life. When I first saw Sideways, I thought it was a humorous tale of two friends on a journey of self-discovery. Now when I watch it, I relate more to Miles’ struggles with getting published, and wondering if working so hard on something that not many people will ever see is worth it in the end. The conclusion of the film is ambiguous, just like life. I love that so much because it makes me hopeful for Miles, that maybe, like his beloved Pinot Noir, he will eventually be coaxed into greatness. Maybe I will too. Cheers!