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The Great Escape

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Image credit: The Great Escape, 1963

This might make me a traitor to the 1960s, but I’ve never totally understood the lure of Steve McQueen. After watching several of his films recently… I still don’t. (side note: am I the only one who realizes this man had a terribly unflattering haircut???). However, this week’s film The Great Escape (Disc/Download) is so much more than just a McQueen vehicle (pun-intended). Rather, it’s a well-choreographed ensemble piece that surprised me at every turn.

First, I assumed that a movie about military prisoners in World War II-era Germany would feature scene after scene of torture and random killings at the hands of the Nazis. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The film opens with a jaunty Elmer Bernstein score, where we catch our first glimpse of a POW camp that encourages gardening and crafts instead of starvation and forced labor. It’s all so… civilized? I was slightly amazed by how frequently the prisoners are left to their own devices, allowing them time to dig three tunnels, sew new clothes, forge documents, and manufacture gadgets to aid in their escape. My second surprise was that although McQueen gets top billing, he doesn’t necessarily get the most screen time. I actually thought Charles Bronson and James Coburn were the true MVPs of the cast. Watching Bronson crawl through those tunnels with his RIPPED arm muscles was a sight to behold, and I can’t help but be reminded of my late father, who served as a tunnel rat in Vietnam. Now it makes sense to me why he owned this movie (and why I’ve now inherited it)- it wasn’t about McQueen. It was always about The Tunnel King.

You’d think alcohol would have no place in a POW camp, but remember this is a civilized camp. Prisoners make their own hooch with the potatoes they’ve grown, which serves two purposes—getting rid of the excavated tunnel dirt, plus letting off a little steam. This week, pay tribute to those Allied prisoners of The Great Escape with this Dirty Martini!

Dirty Martini

2 ½ oz Potato Vodka

½ oz Dry Vermouth

½ oz Olive Brine

Olives for garnish

Combine vodka, vermouth, and olive brine in a shaker with ice. Stir until well chilled and combined, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with olives.

It’s so interesting that the escapees didn’t just want their freedom—rather, they wanted to force the Nazis into devoting valuable resources to recover the prisoners. In that sense, the escape was successful. Yes, it has an unsatisfying ending for some of the characters, but nevertheless, this remains a fantastic cinematic example of what it means to be brave, selfless, and strong. Cheers!

The Martian

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the-martian

Image credit: The Martian, 2015

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much over this summer weather. The sun is a relentless flaming ball that scorches me the second I walk outside, and my yard has become a barren wasteland. I’m actually seeing a lot of parallels between Texas weather and life on Mars in this week’s film The Martian (DVD/Download). Those scenes of Matt Damon gasping for breath as his space suit fails and he’s exposed to the atmosphere? Me, on the walk to the car in the morning.

I didn’t expect to like The Martian as much as I did. I thought it would be yet another big budget sci-fi/action film with a ton of special effects and not much real acting. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out that director Ridley Scott made a compelling film about the triumph of the human spirit against terrible odds. In the end, surviving life on Mars isn’t all that different than surviving life on Earth- you just solve one problem at a time. Granted, problems like a lack of water, oxygen, and food are bigger than, say, my Wi-Fi going out, but we all have our struggles. As Matt Damon MacGyver’s his way through farming and rocket engineering on a planet not meant to support human life, it reminds me that if he can do all that, I can handle a power-cycle with a tech support guy from India.

To survive on Mars, you have to get creative with food and beverages. Left with only a limited supply of rations, astronaut Mark Watney is forced to make his own water and grow his own potatoes. If he’d had more time, and if his space station hadn’t blown up, he might have parlayed this into vodka production. I have no doubt he could do it. While watching The Martian, I recommend drinking a Martian Screwdriver.

Martian Screwdriver

4 oz Tang

2 oz Potato Vodka

Build drink over ice, stirring gently to combine.

martian screwdriver

Although it features a strong supporting cast (um… Kristin Wiig what are you doing in this??), The Martian really is Matt Damon’s tour de force. His performance brings laughs and tears, and the fear on his face as he’s about to lift off into space in an open-air space craft gets me all choked up, every time. All I can say is- welcome back to the world of great actors Mr. Damon. There’s nobody else I’d rather be stranded with. Cheers!