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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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Image credit: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993

After returning from a trek across small-town America, I decided it would be fun to see what the area around my adopted city of Austin used to look like before tech companies and tract housing took over large swaths of land. Did it once resemble the rural areas I’d just driven through, covered in corn fields, scrub brush, and the pathetic vestiges of a lost election? Or was it always papered in little boxes made of ticky-tacky? Research told me that if I wanted a peek at the Austin suburbs of yore, I’d have to go back to the 1993 Lasse Hallström feel-good classic, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Disc/Download).

Shot on location in the Texas hamlets of Manor and Pflugerville (that’s MAY-nor for all you out-of-towners), this quirky gem has the Lone Star state standing in for the fictional small town of Endora, Iowa. Gilbert (Johnny Depp) is the glue holding his dysfunctional family together, but even the strongest epoxy has a melting point. With a dangerously obese mother, mentally-disabled little brother, angry teen sister, and dead-end job at a failing grocery store, he’s one crisis away from a nervous breakdown. Even friends like Crispin Glover and John C. Reilly can’t pull Gilbert out of his funk, nor can the sexy housewife (Mary Steenburgen) who carries a torch for long-haired, high-cheeked delivery boys. No, it takes the sunny presence of Juliette Lewis, and the wide-eyed innocence of a young Leonardo DiCaprio to make him see there’s still a big life ahead of him– he just needs to grab it. Nominated for an Academy Award, DiCaprio’s performance in this film remains a career highlight, as he all but disappears in to the role of Arnie. It’s worth a watch just to see that level of raw talent.

Austin may not be covered in farmland to the North and East anymore, but the grapes sure are thriving in the West. Using some wine I picked up in the Texas Hill Country, I made a drink that perfectly captures some great local flavors. While watching What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, I recommend drinking this Rosé Lavender Lemonade.

Rosé Lavender Lemonade

4oz Dry Rosé Wine (I used William Chris Vineyards Skeleton Key Rosé)

1oz Lavender Simple Syrup

1oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Club Soda

Lemon Slice for Garnish

Combine Rosé, Simple Syrup, and Lemon Juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then pour into a glass filled with fresh ice. Top with Club Soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a lemon slice.

This film resonates with me in a lot of ways, but particularly in its handling of grief. There’s been a lot of that in my life recently, and yes there have been times when I’ve felt tempted to just set the house on fire, pack up my car, and go. But there’s another way to move forward, that doesn’t involve arson or abandonment. It’s looking around, taking stock of what’s important, and figuring out how to conscientiously unload the rest. Figuring out, like Gilbert, how to be a good person. Cheers!

Polyester

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Polyester 2

Image Credit: Polyester, 1981

As a final love letter to the TCMFF that never was, I decided to celebrate not just a classic, but a cult classic. Polyester (Disc/Download) is the rare John Waters movie that has eluded me up till now. Maybe I’d been holding out for an Odorama screening. Maybe I just wanted to watch this someplace more exciting than my living room. But then, I decided the viewing circumstances were irrelevant; Todd Tomorrow should not have to wait until tomorrow.

Having been raised on soap operas, the day I discovered the Douglas Sirk melodrama was a true awakening. Classic cinema had been churning out these “women’s pictures” (I have as much disdain for this term as I do “women’s fiction”) for decades, and life was suddenly a banquet again.  But once you’ve seen Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows, where to go? Baltimore, that’s where. With his core group of Dreamland performers, including Divine, Mink Stole, and Edith Massey, The Pope of Trash took these angst-filled flicks and turned them on their heads. It’s clear Waters has a real appreciation for the original genre, down to the peignoirs, clouds of Evening in Paris perfume, and campy character names, but he injects his own brand of modern weirdness too– foot fetishism, doggie suicide, and drag performance to name a few. The story of Francine Fishpaw overcoming her cheating husband and alcoholism is straight out of the Sirk playbook, but the clever way Waters inserts his own brand makes Polyester into something truly unique.

In a nod to the “gimmick” films of the 1950s, Polyester was originally screened in Odorama, whereby audience members were given cards to scratch and smell during certain scenes. Indeed, even without the cards, we see Divine sniffing like a president during a press conference. Most of the scents are pretty vile (model airplane glue, flatulence, skunk), but the first one is meant to lull us into a false sense of security: roses. By adding a few drops of rose water to this cocktail, you can join in the fun even at home. While watching Polyester, I recommend this Stop and Smell the Roses! cocktail.

Stop and Smell the Roses!

1.5 oz Three Olives Rosé Vodka

.5 oz Lemon Juice

.5 oz Grapefruit Juice

2-3 drops Rose Water

Splash of Sparkling Rosé

Club Soda

Dried Strawberries or Rose Petals for garnish

Combine Vodka, lemon and grapefruit juices, and rose water in a shaker filled with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with Sparkling Rosé, and club soda. Garnish with dried strawberries or rose petals.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Eventually, Francine learns to stop hittin’ the sauce, but I don’t see any reason for us viewers to stop. Without the famed Odorama cards, we need alcohol as our gimmick. By being something special and different, Polyester breathed new life into the career of Tab Hunter. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll breathe new life into your love of movies; I know it did for me. Cheers!

The Kid Stays in the Picture

Kid Stays in the Picture

Image credit: The Kid Stays in the Picture, 2002.

As the summer of ’18 comes to a close, I’m reflecting on what a fantastic few months it was for documentaries at the multiplex (well, maybe not the multiplex, but at least that little indie cinema you keep promising yourself you’ll go to). With films like Won’t You Be My Neighbor, RBG, Three Identical Strangers, and Whitney generating considerable buzz, it’s gotten me excited about the medium again. In a world of “Fake News”, gaslighting, and malicious lies, isn’t it refreshing to see a film that seeks to tell the truth? Or at least, the truth according to someone…  As Robert Evans says in this week’s film The Kid Stays in the Picture (DVD/Download), “There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”

After watching the film, here are the things I do actually think are true:

  • Robert Evans was a so-so actor, a master salesman, and (for a time) a brilliant Hollywood producer. At age 34, he became the youngest studio head, taking over Paramount Pictures. That’s younger than I am now. The man knew how to hustle.
  • He shepherded some truly great films during his tenure, including Love Story, The Godfather, Goodbye Columbus, Harold and Maude, Rosemary’s Baby, and Chinatown. Just… wow.
  • He made a lot of mistakes in his personal life.
  • Hollywood would not be what it is today without him.

In adapting Evan’s memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture pieces together still photography, film footage, and audio narration by Evans himself. If you love movies, you’ll love this movie. Although he personifies the “sleazy Hollywood producer” type, you can’t deny his talent. Plus, hearing him call his ex-wife Ali MacGraw “Snotnose MacGraw” is worth the rental price alone.

One thing that seemed to motivate Robert Evans was his own personal Eden, a Beverly Hills estate called Woodland. Surrounded by roses, trees, and a beautiful swimming pool, it’s the kind of fairy-tale house that just doesn’t get built anymore. If I were invited to a pool party, I know what I’d be drinking- a rose-flavored cocktail meant for an afternoon of script-reading and suntanning. While watching The Kid Stays in the Picture, I recommend drinking a Mountaintop cocktail.

Mountaintop

1 ½ oz vodka

¾ oz Campari

2 oz Grapefruit soda

2 oz Ginger Beer

½ oz Lime Juice

¼ tsp Rosewater

Build drink in a tumbler filled with ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with twist of lime.

Apex

The story of Robert Evans is so outrageous that I think it could only be told documentary-style. With Evan’s colorful bravado, who needs actors? I don’t know if he’s got a third/fourth/fifth? act in him, but if he does, I already know it’ll be one hell of a ride. Cheers!

Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love

Image credit: Shakespeare in Love, 1998.

This Valentine’s Day, I know just what I’m in the mood for- love, and a bit with a dog. Throw in some sumptuous Elizabethan-era costumes, one of the most genius scripts of all time, a saucy Judi Dench, and what have you got? This week’s Ultimate Romance film Shakespeare in Love (DVD/Download).

Before GOOP, before vagina steaming, Gwyneth Paltrow was Viola de Lessups, beautiful muse to Will Shakespeare and feminist icon to every girl who ever dreamed of doing a “man’s job”. I wanted to hate her, she of the dewy pore-less skin and perfect hair that doesn’t even need a comb in the morning. Except, damn it- she’s just radiant in this film. Her chemistry with Ralph Fiennes is amazing, and her joy at playing this character is completely contagious. Plus there’s that script, which takes all the brilliance of Shakespeare’s plays, adds some subtle, witty nods to Elizabethan history, and sparkles with one double entendre after another.

I love a good “putting on a show” storyline, so naturally I’m enamored with The Rose theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet née Mercutio née Romeo and Ethel- The Pirate’s Daughter. This film does a fantastic job of showing the humorous side of Shakespearean theatre, and therefore it deserves a light, rose-inspired cocktail to put you in the mood for romance. While watching Shakespeare in Love, I recommend drinking a Rose by Any Other Name.

Rose by Any Other Name

2 oz gin

2 oz Elderflower Liqueur

1 ½ oz lime juice

½ oz simple syrup

½ tsp Rosewater

Fresh rose petals

Combine liquid ingredients over ice, shaking well to combine and thoroughly chill. Strain mixture into a glass, and garnish with rose petals.

Rose by Any Other Name

Can a play (or a film) show the us the very truth and nature of love? I certainly believe it can, and this film does it perfectly. By the final scene, I’m a true believer in the idea that it will all come out right in the end. How? It’s a mystery. Cheers!