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Taxi Driver

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Image credit: Taxi Driver, 1976

Continuing through the year 1976, I can’t not make a stop at Taxi Driver (Disc/Download). In addition to serving as a fantastic time capsule of the period, Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus forever changed filmmaking, as well as our perception of the hero/antihero.

It’s hard to say what my opinion of this movie would have been if I hadn’t already been confronted with the concept of mass shooting from the age of sixteen, well before I ever saw DeNiro turn to the mirror and ask, “You talkin’ to me?” For by the time I got to college and actually watched this, it was too late. The image of a disturbed individual (or two, in the case of Columbine), walking into a crowded area, armed with hidden guns under a baggy coat, had already been implanted by news reports. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t find this scenario entertaining in a movie, even when it’s the phenomenal Robert DeNiro playing the tortured white male who just can’t deal. Maybe we’re supposed to relate to his character of Travis Bickle, a man who came home from Vietnam to a crumbling New York City, its sidewalks piled high with trash and sin, who feels out of place and aimless. Maybe we’re supposed to understand why he’d basically stalk Cybill Shepherd, then a teenaged Jodi Foster, as though he’s the one man who can save them from the big bad city. Sure, the climax and the night rides are beautifully shot, sometimes achingly so, but I can’t get over the simple fact that this guy who feels powerless thinks the solution is to take away power from others by any violent means necessary. That doesn’t make him a hero in my book, despite how good his abs look.

A common refrain from Travis is that he wants someone to come in and clean up the city. He drives through the streets of Manhattan, and all he sees is literal and figurative garbage. So while you’re watching Taxi Driver, lean into the theme with this Dirty Manhattan.

Dirty Manhattan

2 oz Rye Whiskey

1 oz Dry Vermouth

A few dashes Angostura Bitters

Green Olive

Stir together rye, vermouth, and bitters over ice until chilled. Strain into a martini glass, and garnish with a green olive.

Taxi Driver is one of those movies I think everyone should see, but only once. I personally don’t need the reminder that the world is a burning trash fire with no hope of anybody actually doing anything to change it; all I have to do is read the latest headlines. But nevertheless, I still feel the need to toast Marty Scorsese—he put his heart, and his beard into this one. Cheers!

Great Expectations

great expecatations dinsmore

Image credit: Great Expectations, 1998

I’ve thus far featured a couple of films during Literary Adaptation Month that have stayed pretty close to the source material.  This week however, I’ll be watching an adaptation that uses the original book as inspiration, but then veers wildly, excitingly off course.  A long-time favorite film of mine is Alfonso Cuarón’s 1998 version of Great Expectations (DVD/Download). Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, this film captures the classic Dickensian struggles of wealth vs. poverty and good vs. evil, while updating it for the modern era.

In the Cuarón version of Great Expectations, Pip is renamed Finn, and played by Ethan Hawke. A very bored Gwyneth Paltrow plays Estella, the focus of his unrequited love. Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of convict Lustig (Magwitch) is still a career highlight to me, and Anne Bancroft shines as Ms. Dinsmoor (aka Miss Havisham). I absolutely want to be Ms. Dinsmoor when I get old, sitting in a Florida mansion, drinking martinis, wearing crazy wigs and listening to Bossa Nova records. Strike that- can I just start that life now?? In this version, Finn becomes an artist (side note: I’m madly in love with the Francesco Clemente paintings and drawings done for the film), and Lustig’s secret patronage lures him to New York, and Estella. Great Expectations relies on visuals a great deal, and it’s this beauty (and the lovely words written by David Mamet in the voiceover narrations) that keep me coming back time and again.

A common visual motif in several of Alfonso Cuarón’s films is the color green. It’s been characterized as the color of hope, and in this film that could not be more true. Finn is always hopeful, even when he shouldn’t be. Cuarón seamlessly weaves the color into nearly every scene, through the lush tropical backdrops, Finn’s paintings, the costumes, and most notably in Gwyneth Paltrow’s TO DIE FOR Donna Karan dress. It’s so fabulous, I just have to share:

Great Expecations donna karan

For my drink this week, I’m picking up on that green motif and mixing up a martini that Ms. Dinsmore would surely be sipping in her gilded bedroom. While watching Great Expectations, I recommend drinking a Paradiso Perduto.

Paradiso Perduto

1 oz Midori

1 oz vodka

1 oz lemon juice

¼ oz simple syrup

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass. 

Paradiso Perduto

I’m not usually one for radioactive-looking cocktails, but this one is actually quite tasty.  And with such a visually-focused film, why not match it?  There have been other Great Expectations adaptations, and I expect there will be several more in the future, but this one will always be special to me.  Modern art, martinis, and Donna Karan-  what’s not to love?  Chicka-boom!