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Category Archives: Dramas

Selena

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Jennifer Lopez in "Selena"

Image credit: Selena, 1997

Upon moving to Texas, one learns very quickly- Selena is a big deal here.  Not even death can diminish this Latina legend, whose face still graces reusable grocery bags, t-shirts, candles, and air fresheners in cities and towns north and south of the Rio Grande. Her story will never be forgotten, thanks to the efforts of the HEB grocery chain, and this week’s film Selena (Disc).

It’s easy to watch Jennifer Lopez’s star-making movie and draw comparisons to my other favorite biopic about a domineering dad and his musical offspring, The Jacksons: An American Dream. However, the key difference between the two stories is that the Quintanillas seem fairly normal. There are no cinder block punishments, no pet mice (well, Selena does have that chicken….), and no tragic scenes of child abuse. This film simply tells the tale of a hardworking, talented family who realizes they have a chance to create something special.  Something that could cross borders and bring people together.  Selena forged her own path as a woman, as a Latina, and as a musician. And she did it with her family by her side, while wearing a sparkly bra. Sorry, bustier. Hats off to you, sister.

Something we celebrate widely in Texas, besides Selena, is the Michelada. Often served with brunch, it’s a refreshing alternative to the heavier Bloody Mary. While watching Selena, I recommend drinking a Michelada.

Michelada

Lime wedge

Chili salt

2 oz lime juice

2 tsp hot sauce

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 bottle light Mexican beer (I use Corona)

Run a lime wedge around the edge of a glass, and dip in the chili salt. Pour lime juice, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce into a glass. Add a couple pinches of the chile salt, then add ice. Top with beer, and stir gently to mix.

Michelada

While the debates rage on about gun control and immigration, it seems like a perfect time to revisit Selena.   This singer was the tragic victim of gun violence, but she was also a shining example of how communities can come together.  Her father struggled with being “not Mexican enough” in Mexico and “not American enough” in America, but somehow Selena charmed both countries.  As I watch Jennifer Lopez do the washing machine in a bedazzled jumpsuit, and drink my spicy beer, I have to wonder- if simple things like music and art and cinema can break down even the strongest borders, what’s the point in trying to build them back up?  Cheers!

Walk the Line

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Walk the Line

Image credit: Walk the Line, 2005.

Ah… March. That special month when hordes of musicians descend upon my city of Austin and turn every square inch of space, from the sidewalk outside a grocery store to the floor of a tiny boutique, into a stage. This year, Cinema Sips is getting in on the action by highlighting some quintessential biopics, guaranteed to make you want to dance, drink, and never EVER date a musician. Kicking things off is the love story of Johnny and June, Walk the Line (Disc/Download).

One of my first SXSW shows happened, coincidentally, at a Johnny Cash-themed bar, the Mean Eyed Cat. I remember thinking at the time, wow—this guy must’ve been pretty amazing to have a whole bar dedicated to his music. After watching Walk the Line, I get it. While schmaltzy in the way that most biopics tend to be, you still leave the film with an awakening that Cash’s music was truly something special. Though he had his demons, he didn’t shy away from them—he put them into his music so that others could feel a little less alone. Joaquin Phoenix plays Cash with an effortless cool, doing such a good job on the vocals that I get chills. And Reese Witherspoon as June Carter!! Be still my heart. She’s saccharine sweet, but one tough cookie. The contrast between her bubbly on-stage persona and her real-life “ain’t got time for this crap” attitude is such a joy to watch. Plus, you know I love a good backcomb!

To celebrate Johnny and June’s fiery chemistry, I’ll be mixing up a cocktail that’s equal parts sweet and hot. While watching Walk the Line, I recommend drinking this Ring of Fire.

Ring of Fire

1 shot Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire

12 oz Hard Cider (I use Austin Eastciders Original)

Pour shot into a pint of cider, and enjoy!

Ring of Fire

If you enjoy Walk the Line and all its standard-issue music biopic beats, you’ll probably also get a kick out of its satirical cousin, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Honestly, I can’t watch one and not the other. It’s easy to make fun of the formulaic way that musicians’ stories are handled in cinema, but my heart truly bursts at the sight of Johnny and June finally turning their onstage chemistry into a real-life love for the ages. Bradley and Gaga—ARE YOU LISTENING??? Cheers!

Love Story

Love Story

Image credit: Love Story, 1970

We all know the classic line: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. But really… does it?? I may have only a decade of marriage under my belt, but I would’ve thought that love means defying your family to be with the person you want. Or working a crappy job to support the dreams of someone else. Or maybe love is holding your spouse in a hospital bed while they die from a mysterious illness that only makes them look more beautiful. Really, there’s a lot of love in Love Story (Disc/Download). It’s just not where the script wants it to be.

Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) and Jenny (Ali MacGraw) meet in college, trade barbs, then kisses, and eventually wedding rings. They struggle to make ends meet while he’s in law school, and just as things start looking up financially, Jenny gets sick. From what, we’re never told. All we know is she looks ah-mah-zing during mournful winter scenes in snowy New York, and especially on her death bed. We know from the very first line of this movie that Jenny’s not going to make it, and yet I spend 90 minutes thinking somehow, someone made a mistake. Maybe Ryan O’Neal is talking about a long-lost little sister, not the wisecracking wife who’s way too good for him.

For such a sad, serious movie set in a bitterly cold climate, all I can think about when I watch this film is an earthy, warming cocktail. Aptly named, this Widow’s Kiss will have you thinking about poor Oliver, cradling his wife for the last time. I’m not crying, you’re crying!!!!

Widow’s Kiss

1 ½ oz Calvados apple brandy

¾ oz Yellow Chartreuse

¾ oz Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Luxardo Maraschino Cherry for garnish

Combine Calvados, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, and bitters in a shaker filled with ice. Stir until chilled, then strain into a glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Widows Kiss

One of my great disappointments in life is that Ali MacGraw did not make more films. It’s through her performances in Love Story and Goodbye, Columbus that I learned how to dress with confidence, and how to stand up for myself in relationships. In Love Story, she’s brash, she swears, and she doesn’t take sh*t from anybody. But she also looks fabulous doing it, in wool peacoats, tights, and a scarf for every occasion. If clothes are a woman’s armor, she’s ready for anything, even the inevitabilities of love and death. Cheers!

The Days of Wine and Roses

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Days of Wine and Roses

Image credit: The Days of Wine and Roses, 1962.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching rom-coms and writing books with that all-important Happily Ever After, but this February, I’m planning a deep dive into the tragic romance genre. I want to celebrate those tear-jerker movies that leave you gutted, but nevertheless believing in the all-consuming power of love. This week, I’m subjecting myself to a serious punch to the face by watching The Days of Wine and Roses (Disc/Download).

I’ll be honest, when I hit play on this film, I was expecting something much different than what I got. I thought Blake Edwards + Henry Mancini + Jack Lemmon = a romantic comedy with great music and fabulous party scenes. Well, I got the music, parties, and romance, but there’s nothing funny about this movie about two alcoholics struggling to get sober. Like Reefer Madness before it, and Leaving Las Vegas decades after, this is a film that will make you want to give up all your vices and just stay home with a glass of water. It strays a little too far into propaganda-territory for Alcoholics Anonymous, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a powerful film about loving someone who can’t love themselves. Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick give powerhouse performances as a doomed husband and wife who fall on and off the wagon multiple times, and when each subsequent fall is from a greater height, you start to really ache for them. You hope that their love is enough to help them through this, but eventually, it becomes clear—it might not be.

When the film begins, Lee Remick is a teetotaler, until she meets the sweet, drunken charmer Jack Lemmon and his Brandy Alexander‘s. One sip, and it’s all downhill. You could certainly enjoy that cocktail with her, but this film is also a great excuse to use rosewater. Especially when Jack Lemmon is tearing through a greenhouse looking for the bottle he stashed in a plant. It’s so moving, you can almost smell the soil, roses, and bitter stench of cheap booze. While watching The Days of Wine and Roses, I recommend this Wilted Rose Martini. (But seriously- just one, dear reader.)

Wilted Rose Martini

2 ½ oz Lemon Vodka

½ oz Elderflower Liqueur

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz simple syrup

3 drops Rosewater

Lemon Twist

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Wilted Rose Martini

I count my lucky stars that I’m able to have only one or two cocktails and call it a night. I know how slippery that slope is for many people, and this film gives me empathy for their struggle. The ending is ambiguous, and we don’t know if either of these people will ever stay clean. But I have hope that they do—I believe in love, and I believe that people can conquer their demons.  Maybe there’s a Happily Ever After still to come. Cheers!

Leap of Faith

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Leap of Faith

Image Credit: Leap of Faith, 1992

I feel a healing coming on– of the cocktail variety!  Get ready for a 90’s blast from the past as Cinema Sips watches Leap of Faith (Download), that gospel-heavy movie where Steve Martin jogs in a belly shirt and cowboy hat, with zero irony. There is a God!

Faith is an important aspect of life for many people, but unfortunately, organized religion can also be a breeding ground for con artists and predators. Jonas Nightingale is of the con artist variety, a slick-tongued preacher promising prosperity to the downtrodden. He travels the Midwest with a bus load of accomplices, setting up a game of smoke and mirrors for people who have a lot of faith, but not much else.  Giving them a good show, he makes them believe in the power of the Lord, then lines his pockets with their hard-earned cash. One could say he’s not unlike certain politicians, feeding off the economic hardships of their constituents, but that’s an argument for another time. As Jonas, Steve Martin is charismatic, dark, and one hell of a showman. Liam Neeson’s well-meaning sheriff doesn’t stand a chance.

The reason these poor townspeople are ready and eager to believe in Nightingale’s “healing power” is the ongoing drought that threatens to ruin their corn crops. Living in Texas, I know the feeling of praying for rain (and I also know the feeling of praying for it to stop… ahem ATX water contamination 2018). Plus, corn is pretty important, if for no other reason than moonshine. While watching Leap of Faith, I recommend drinking a Sunday School Collins.

Sunday School Collins

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

1 ½ oz corn whiskey

4 oz club soda

Combine whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a rocks filled glass. Top with club soda, stir gently to combine.

sunday school

“Our Lady of Immaculate Queso” by Heartless Machine (heartless machine.com)

The real standout element in this film is the music. From the opening notes of Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” to rousing gospel numbers, it’s no wonder it later received the Broadway treatment. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, this film will make you want to get up and dance. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to believe in the impossible.  Cheers!

Boogie Nights

boogie nights

Image credit: Boogie Nights, 1997.

It finally happened- my weekly Cinema Sips post is dropping on the booziest night of the year!  New Year’s Eve deserves a movie featuring disco dancing, kung fu fighting, alcohol and drug-fueled parties in the San Fernando Valley, and a main character with a name so cool it cuts glass. It’s time to watch Boogie Nights (Disc/Download).

This is a great movie for New Year’s Eve because the holiday acts as a touchstone within this meandering tale of the 1970’s pornography industry. Things are rosy for a while– newcomer Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg, in a star-making role) joins a dysfunctional “family” of porn stars, makes a lot of money from his greatest, er… asset, and buys a lot of kooky stuff. As you do. But then the ball drops on 1980 and things spiral out of control. The drugs get harder, certain other things get softer (ahem), and the misfit family splinters. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson manages to transport his audience to a time and place that’s so specific, it’s as though the characters are trapped in amber.  Even sin looks beautiful under his filter.

One of my favorite scenes involves John C. Reilly’s character Reed Rothchild displaying his bartender skills at a pool party. I have no idea how much tequila he pours in that blender, but it really doesn’t matter; the man is my mixologist hero. Let’s toast this Shakespearean tragedy of a film with a New Year’s twist on an old favorite. While watching Boogie Nights, I recommend drinking a Frozen Amber Margarita.

Frozen Amber Margarita

4 oz silver tequila

2 oz Triple Sec

2 oz fresh lime juice

2 oz blood orange cocktail mix (I use Stirrings)

1 oz Aperol

1 cup Ice

Sparkling Wine

Combine tequila, triple sec, lime juice, Aperol, and cocktail mix in a blender with ice. Blend until frothy, then pour into a champagne flute. Top with Sparkling Wine.

Frozen Amber margarita

New Year’s Eve is always such a strange night. It’s full of hope and reflection, maybe sadness and joy. Wherever you’re at with this holiday, just know that whatever happens in the coming year, you’re gonna be okay. There are movies to watch, there are cocktails to drink, and I’m excited that we get to do it together through Cinema Sips. Cheers!

The Godfather

The Godfather

Image credit: The Godfather, 1972

This week is Thanksgiving, and I don’t know about y’all, but I am ready to eat, drink, and watch movies. Sure, we’ll come together with loved ones and enjoy some mashed potatoes and stuffing, but post-meal is where the real magic happens. Because that’s when you settle in with a good film. If you’re smart, you’ll choose something that celebrates, eating, drinking, and above all, la famiglia. This Thanksgiving, I’ll be watching The Godfather (DVD/Download).

I’m not going to rehash the plot of The Godfather because really, it’s been almost 50 years, and if you don’t already know that this is a movie about a large mafia crime family, heaven help you. What I will say, however, is that as a fan of late 60’s/early 70’s cinema, this film encompasses so much of what I love about the era. You have the faded Hollywood icon in the form of Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone contrasting with the brash, exciting newcomer Al Pacino as Michael Corleone.  Then there are the 1940’s period sets that still feel a bit like 70’s gritty NYC, and Francis Ford Coppola’s blend of cinema verite mixed with grandiose storytelling. You see the wine and the red sauce and the piles of wedding cake that scream ITALIAN, but also the quiet, subtle moments that pull the viewer in and make you feel the story.  Hollywood was still figuring out what it wanted to be when this film was made, and The Godfather said it loud and clear- the old studio system was dead, long live the auteur.

If you find yourself cooking for a large crowd on T-Day, you may just want to keep things simple and enjoy a nice bottle of red wine with this film (Sicilian or Southern Italian-origin would be my choice for authenticity’s sake). But if you want to go a little further, pick up a bottle of Sambuca and digest your dinner like the Corleones. While watching The Godfather, I recommend drinking The Closer.

The Closer

1 oz White Sambuca

1 oz Coffee liqueur

1 oz half-and-half

Star Anise for garnish

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker, blend well, then strain into a glass with a large ice cube.  Garnish with star anise.  

I’ve set the ambitious goal of watching ALL THREE Godfather films in one day, breaking only for more drinks and dessert. We’ll see how far I get (feel free to check in with me on Twitter @cinemasips to see if I’ve started swearing in Italian yet). I will leave you with this quote from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather: “Time erodes gratitude more quickly than it does beauty.” So take that gratitude you feel on Thanksgiving, and let it stay with you for a while. Cheers!