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Wonder Boys

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Wonder Boys

Image Credit: Wonder Boys, 2000

As I prepare for a trip to Pittsburgh later this week, I find myself in the midst of an existential crisis. While it’s always fun to visit distant family, I still find myself sighing at the prospect of I.C. Light and “yinz” instead of “y’all”. Plus, there’s the inevitable feeling of inadequacy returning to the city of my youth, not having quite reached that writing career pinnacle yet.  Wonder Boys (DVD/Download), that fantastic adaptation of a Michael Chabon novel, is exactly what I need in my life right now.

There are many things that draw me toward Wonder Boys- the story of a washed up literary giant who’s struggling to find his footing again. As Professor Grady Tripp, Michael Douglas becomes the teacher every writer wishes they had. Funny, encouraging, eccentric, he treats his students like the contemporaries they are. Tobey Maguire gives a quirky performance as his depressed, brilliant protégé James Leer, and Robert Downey Jr. turns on the manic charm as book editor Terry Crabtree. For cinephiles like me, the movie is a dream, filled with Marilyn Monroe references, and classic film trivia galore. I also love that it satirizes the pretentiousness of the literary and academic worlds, with Michael Douglas as a messy antidote- prowling his car through slushy grey streets, dead dog in his trunk, weed in the glove box. It’s just…. so Pittsburgh.

To me, one of the great things about this city is the constant dichotomy between old and new. Sure there are trendy lounges and hip hotels now, but there are still dive bars in the hills where James Brown impersonators like Vernon Hardapple hang out. As an ode to his pregnant baby mama/cocktail waitress Oola (who never forgets a drink), while watching Wonder Boys I recommend drinking a Double Dickel on the Rocks.

Double Dickel on the Rocks

2 oz George Dickel No. 12® Tennessee Whiskey

Lemon twist

Pour whiskey in a glass filled with cracked ice. Top with lemon twist.

Double Dickel

 

While I struggle to find a place for my latest manuscript (even if that place is buried inside my desk drawer), and I begin working on the next one, I have to remind myself that it’s not about recognition or seeing your book in an airport bookstore, or that coveted interview on NPR.  It’s about the act of writing.  As Professor Tripp says, “Nobody teaches a writer anything.  You tell ’em what you know.  You tell ’em to find their voice and stay with it.  You tell the ones that have it to keep at it, you tell the ones that don’t have it to keep at it too… because that’s the only way they’re gonna get to where they’re going.”  As I return to Pittsburgh, I feel comforted and encouraged by that advice.  I haven’t arrived yet, but at least I know where I want to go.  Cheers!

The Great Gatsby

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Image Credit Warner Bros. Pictures, 2013

Image Credit Warner Bros. Pictures, 2013

What else can we say about one of the greatest American novels ever to be written? A novel that’s been adapted several times onto the big screen, to varying degrees of success? Plenty, as it turns out. Think what you will about Baz Luhrmann’s most recent adaptation of The Great Gatsby (DVD/Download), but one thing it is not is boring. I’ll admit, at times I found it a bit slow (ahem- everything after the car accident), however the raucous party scenes more than make up for that. Plus, it is a truly great film for pairing with a cocktail.  Back in the ’20’s, they knew how to pour a good drink.

I don’t need to bore anybody with a synopsis of The Great Gatsby, as I’m assuming we all read it in high school. And if you’ve never read it, order or download it right now!! Even if it’s a bit trite to say, this really is one of my favorite books. I think the reason directors have such a hard time turning it into a movie is because the language in the book is so beautiful. The plot is interesting, sure, but the language- that’s what keeps you reading. The sheer perfection of Fitzgerald’s sentences and vocabulary is enough to make me give up writing altogether because I know I’ll never be as talented as he was. However, I can be as drunk as he reputedly was, and so can you if you follow my recipe below!

When watching this movie, which takes place during the roaring ’20’s, I’m compelled to use a liquor which was like water back then- gin. I love the culture of the speakeasy and the raucous, never-ending parties of the wealthy, not to mention the clothes and bobbed hairstyles. But really, even the best-dressed character in this film looks naked without a cocktail glass in their hand. Because Baz Luhrmann’s film has more effervescence and pizazz than any other adaptations of this story, I’m serving up a Gin Fizz this week.

Prohibition Gin Fizz

2oz gin

Dash of lime juice

½ tsp simple syrup

1 egg white

Soda Water

Lime twist for garnish

Pour the gin, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for a few minutes (I promise, it’s worth it). Strain into a glass and top with soda water. Garnish with lime twist.

Gin-Fizz

I like to drink this and imagine I’m at Gatsby’s mansion, wearing any number of the beautiful creations Carey Mulligan gets to model as Daisy Buchanan. I could probably take a pass on the strange hip-hop/jazz mash-ups that populate this movie in favor of classic jazz, but I’d enjoy every minute of being fought over by Leonardo DiCaprio and Joel Edgerton (can I just say WOW about his performance as Tom Buchanan??). Even if you’ve read the book many times like I have, and have seen all the movies, it’s still pretty fun to watch this version, especially with a tasty cocktail. Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it fun? Absolutely. Jay Gatsby wouldn’t have had it any other way. Cheers!

 

The Ice Storm

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1997. TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

1997. TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

After seeing American Hustle recently, I got nostalgic for another film set in the 1970’s that made me a lover of mod furniture and sweater ponchos. This week, I’m watching The Ice Storm (DVD / Download), based on the wonderful novel by Rick Moody. This is one of the rare instances where I actually like the film adaptation of a novel, something director Ang Lee seems to have a knack for. The costumes and production design have a lot to do with why I love this film, not to mention the copious amounts of vodka being consumed, but the acting is stellar as well. I don’t think I’d want to take up permanent residence in the 70’s, however this movie does make me want to visit it for a few days.

The Ice Storm tells the story of two families in Connecticut whose lives intersect over a Thanksgiving weekend. Not only do the adults trade spouses as easily as they would recipes, but their children develop relationships with one another as well. The cast features acting heavyweights such as Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver and Joan Allen, along with teenage versions of Katie Holmes, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and Christina Ricci. There is a great deal of tension built up throughout the movie, sexual and otherwise, which seems to find its outlet when an ice storm freezes every molecule around them. Finally, they are stuck with having to confront their dysfunction. Of course the film features a lot of 70’s-era gags (Waterbeds! Nixon! Key parties!) but the relationships and character struggles could exist during any time period. It’s definitely a great film to curl up with and sink your teeth into on a cold day.

In regards to my cocktail pairing, no drink says 1970’s quite like the Harvey Wallbanger. It may have dated itself into obscurity, but my father has been trying to make these cool again for several years, and I support him fully in this endeavor. I really don’t care for screwdrivers at all, but float a little Galliano on top and we’re in business. Plus, I don’t even have to change the name to make it appropriate for the film. Well, maybe Harvey “Carbanger,” but that just seems silly.

Harvey Wallbanger

1.5 oz Vodka

4 oz Orange Juice

.75 oz Galliano L’Autentico

Combine the vodka and orange juice in a glass over ice. Float the Galliano on top.

Harvey-Wallbanger

Feel free to break out the Jim Croce records and any polyester you may still own and make this a real party (NOT a key party- gross, just gross). I love watching how dysfunctional these families are because it makes me feel so much better about my own life. I don’t have to worry about having a weird daughter whose idea of foreplay is wearing a Nixon mask, or a cheating husband who wears ascots and corduroy blazers (let’s face it- the real crime here is the ascot). No, the only fearful thing I see in this movie is the ice storm itself, which sadly found me last week even down in sunny Texas. So drink up, bundle up, and be grateful that even if you live in an icy climate like the one in the movie, at least you’re smart enough to stay indoors. Cheers!