Guilty Pleasure Film Festival – Day 1

We all have our guilty pleasure movies.

Leigh and I have decided since we are hunkering down for a solitary COVID Thanksgiving, we’d package together all of our guiltiest faves, along with an assortment of our favorite episodes of our favorite TV shows. The result is our two-day ‘Guilty Pleasure Film Festival’. For the movie, the only rule is that we must have seen the film at least 20 times and there should be a shameful element to our choices. However, several of the films do have legit merit and there are quite a few films we’ve seen 20+ times that we refuse to feel guilty about. For example, Harold & Maude did not make the ‘guilty’ cut, but Midnight Run did.

We’ve also decided since we aren’t driving anywhere or attempting to be responsible in any fashion that we will pair our movie selections with some appropriate libations. The recipes include both classics and original creations. Please note, there are a lot of cocktails listed here – we don’t suggest you try to and drink them all. 😉

Okay … here we go:

Thursday, Nov. 26: THANKSGIVING DAY

‘Beautiful. Gorgeous. Wish you were here.’

12 p.m.    French Kiss  (1995)
Starring Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline, Jean Reno & Timothy Hutton
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Lawrence Kasdan is the screenwriter of such pop culture epics like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well as having written and directed The Big Chill in 1983, so it feels fitting that in 1995 he delivered the Citizen Kane of rom-com guilty pleasure movies. Leigh watches this film maybe 10 times a year or more, which means since I’ve met her she’s probably viewed it 150-200 times. I will admit it has grown on me and I have now seen it at least 25 times myself. Kasdan brought back Kevin Kline, whom he cast in The Big Chill, as the charming petty thief attempting to use the neurotic Meg Ryan as an unwitting accomplice in fencing a stolen necklace, with the proceeds going towards financing a legit life back in his French homeland. Meanwhile, Ryan is pursuing her now ex-fiancé, played perfectly by the under-appreciated Timothy Hutton, who has abruptly run off with a pouty French ingenue while he’s supposed to be on a business trip in Paris. The entangled couples are shadowed by a detective, Jean Reno, who knows Kline is up to no good but owes him a moral debt so remains a sympathetic conscience throughout. It is a sweet, fun romantic caper with the entire ensemble delivering rom-com greatness. It is a nod to so many classic ‘cad’ romances from the Golden Age of Hollywood, not to mention a tradition of French filmmaking. It will never crack the AFI 100, but it does deserve a re-look, or if you are my wife, 200 re-looks.

Cocktail pairing: The French 75

A cocktail classic invented by legendary bartender Harry MacElhone in 1915 at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. It is so named as it reportedly has the kick of a French 75mm field gun. These things happen when you mix gin, sugar and champagne.

30ml gin
15ml lemon juice
2 dashes of simple syrup
60ml champagne

Mix the first three ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled champagne glass. Top with champagne. Stir gently.

‘At times, we even drink alike.’

2 p.m. 30 Rock – Generalissimo   (2009: Season 3, Episode 10)
Starring Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin & Salma Hayek
Directed by Todd Holland

Carrying over the ‘lovable cad’ theme from French Kiss, we have one of our favorite episodes of 30 Rock. In the past 20 years of television is there any better ‘lovable cad’ than Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy? In the Generalissimo, we not only get vintage Donaghy, but his Hispanic evil twin (also played by Baldwin) in the form of telenovela villain Hector Moreda. Salma Hayek should have received at least an Emmy nomination in 2009 for her arc as Elisa Padrera, a Puerto Rican nurse attending to Jack’s mother, but alas she did not make the cut. With apologies to the excellent Elizabeth Banks, Edie Falco & Julianne Moore, Hayek is the best romantic foil for Donaghy of the 30 Rock series. In Generalissimo, Donaghy finds his romantic overtures stymied by Elisa’s grandmother only to discover that he is a dead ringer for the actor Moreda who terrorizes her favorite telenovela, Los Amantes Clandestinos. Donaghy has NBC buy the show to kill off the Generalissimo but things do not go as planned.

Cocktail Pairing: Grill My Gypsies

An original creation. The name comes from a poor computerized translation of lyrics of a French ballad. In it, the singer references that she enjoys smoking Gitanes cigarettes. Google translated this line into English as ‘grill my gypsies’. In any event, it is a cocktail that ‘smolders’ with a mustachioed intensity worthy of Hector Moreda.  

40ml of Dad’s Hat rye whiskey
30ml of Bonal Gentiane
20ml of Mezcal
20ml simple syrup
2 dashes of mole bitters

Put all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a tumbler with a single large cube of ice.

2:30 p.m. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover.
Directed by Steve Pink

I’m not ashamed to admit I love Hot Tub Time Machine. It ranks second in my ‘Guiltiest Pleasure’ pantheon. Part of the ‘guilty pleasure’ aspect is (a) owning it and (b) not really understanding why you love the film as much as you do. I have no clear idea why I love HTTM. I think it has something to do with being a teenager in the 1980s and my worst nightmare would be finding myself back there. It is a decade that deserves this wonderful cinematic loathing and mockery. The premise is preposterous. Three middle-aged men with a millennial nephew (played by Clark Duke) in tow, return after many years to a ski town that had once hosted their glory days in the 1980s. They are devastated to discover that the town is now as sad and spiritually bald as they are. Trying to make the best of it, they channel their younger selves and throw down a drunk for the ages in the suite’s hot tub. When they hit the slopes together the following morning, they discover they’ve not only been transported back to ‘Winterfest ’86’ but they’ve also arrived in their youthful bodies again. In order to return back to 2010, they have to undo the mistake they made the night before. It’s not a perfect movie, but Cusack does a great job poking fun at his own 80s oeuvre, Robinson delivers his signature musical performance and Corddry hilariously captures that effed-up friend we all have who’s been stubbornly treading existential water for decades without accepting the necessary ephemeral nature of our youth. As a Hunter S. Thompson fan, there are a couple of references to the late Doctor in the film – one overtly made when they discover Cusack’s drug suitcase – but another more oblique. The best line in the movie isn’t a punchline. In response to Duke’s query about why those days meant so much to them, Cusack wistfully responds. “We were young. We had momentum. We were winning”, echoing HST’s ‘wave speech’ from his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

At the end of the day, I get the feeling that this movie may really only resonate with the small-ish cross-section of us who lived this thing i.e. guys who came of age in the second half of the 80s and reflexively cringe at the hazy Polaroid of day-glo dreams we pull out of the Cincinnati shoe box now and then.

Cocktail Pairing: The Great White Buffalo

An original creation named for the one who got away. It’s tight. So tight.

30ml cacao & coffee infused tequila
30ml Moskovskaya vodka
hot chocolate

There are infused tequilas on the market, but I made my own by macerating cacao nibs and a little ground coffee in tequila for a week. The brand of vodka doesn’t matter but we’ve opted for an excellent Russian brand in a nod to the movie. How you make your hot chocolate is up to you. I probably should use some form of artisanal hot chocolate but, honestly, I’m a straight-up sucker for Swiss Miss.

4:45 p.m. IT Crowd – ‘The Speech’ (2008, Season 3, Episode 4)
Starring:  Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Matt Berry
Directed by Graham Linehan

For the second half of my childhood I grew up in Central Australia. For most of that time we had exactly one television station – the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Most of the programming originated from the BBC so I quickly became familiar with British comedy. Early favorites were the timeless Fawlty Towers and Yes, Minister. My love of British/Australian humor has never left me and the IT Crowd is an absolutely worthy successor to those early programs. Like the other TV Shows in this festival, singling one out is extremely difficult. We’ve settled on The Speech where, to prank their boss Jen, the IT lads get her to present a box containing ‘the Internet’ as part of her Employee of the Month speech. Hilarity ensues.

Cocktail Pairing: The Elders of the Internet

Original creation, named for fictional group that has blessed Jen’s use of ‘the internet’.

40ml gin
30ml Aperol
20ml elderberry syrup
20ml lemon juice
Seltzer

Put the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a glass with ice. Top with seltzer. Give a light stir. Garnish with lemon peel.  

******************** TURDUCKEN BREAK *****************************

6 p.m. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Starring John Cusack, Mini Driver, Joan Cusack, Alan Arkin
Directed by George Armitage

Thirteen years before he directed Hot Tub Time Machine, Steve Pink worked as a screen writer on another of our top Guilty Pleasure movies Grosse Pointe Blank. It’s a very simple conceit – a hit man reluctantly attends his 10th high school reunion in Michigan while on an assignment and re-connects with his childhood sweetheart whom he mysteriously ditched on prom night. If I’m honest, the true star of this movie is the soundtrack & the score, put together by none other than the Clash’s front man, Joe Strummer. It’s also worth noting that I’ll see just about any movie that contains an Alan Arkin performance. Here Arkin plays Cusack’s suffering, ethically-conflicted therapist who reluctantly helps him navigate his emotions around his job and the reunion. I’m equally conflicted about loving this nostalgic comedy about … a cold-blooded hit man. Nonetheless, I get sucked into it, time and a time again and will keep coming back for more.

Cocktail Pairing: Shakubuku

Original creation. Shakubuku, states Minnie Driver’s Debi Newberry ‘is a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.’ We could all use one of these.

40ml Agwa de Bolivia Coca liqueur
20ml genever
20ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
40ml lime juice

Put all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strained into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

OH! The humanity!

8 p.m. WKRP in Cincinnatti – Turkeys Away (1978, Season 1, Episode 7)
Starring Gordon Jump, Richard Sanders, Howard Hesseman, Gary Sandy, Frank Bonner
Directed by Michael Zinburg

Arguably one of the greatest episodes and greatest final line of any television show every made. No Thanksgiving Day celebration is complete in my family without a viewing of Turkeys Away.

Cocktail Pairing: A couple fingers of Wild Turkey in a rocks glass over a single cube of ice.  

8:30 p.m. Midnight Run (1988)
Starring Robert DeNiro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina
Directed by Martin Brest

This movie is impossible to pass by anytime you catch it on cable. Critically speaking, this is probably the best film in our Guilty Pleasure film festival and as such it probably stretches the notion of guilty pleasure. However, because it is on so often and I can never stop watching it once I start, I do feel guilty how many times I’ve seen it. So there’s that. If you haven’t seen Midnight Run, and I’m not even sure how that is possible, it is by far one of the best ‘odd couple’ road trip films in a long American tradition of the genre. The swearing is inspired. Grodin’s wet blanket routine is on point. I’m not a huge Robert DeNiro fan, but I will note that the man doesn’t get enough credit for his comedic chops and timing. For a road comedy, the main characters have depth and range and in the film serious moments, they are fully present.

Director Martin Brest had an amazing run of Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, and the Oscar-nominated Scent of a Woman before writing and directing the disastrous Gigli in 2003. He hasn’t worked since. Don’t worry, Gigli is not in this festival…

Cocktail Pairing: The De Niro Cocktail

This is apparently Robert De Niro’s go-to cocktail. It is a straight up vodka martini using a New Zealand-made vodka called VDKA 6100 that he partly owns.

110ml VDKA 6100 vodka
30ml dry vermouth

Put both into a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir. Strain into a cocktail glass then pour back into the shaker and re-strain. Serve with a lemon twist.

Stay tuned for Day 2…

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