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Category Archives: Musicals

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!

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!

Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me In St. Louis

Image credit: Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944.

After three weeks of black-and-white Christmas films, the technicolor explosion of Meet Me in St. Louis (Disc/Download) is quite a shock for the eyes. Visually stunning, this Judy Garland classic screams Hollywood Studio System, while signaling a modern auteur-driven type of storytelling still to come. With a creepy Victorian snow family, a night of trick-or-treating straight out of Stranger Things, and a horrifying platter of corned beef and cabbage, this movie is one crazy trolley ride.

Set in St. Louis at the turn of the century, the film is about the mundane lives of a large middle-class family, the Smiths (lord, even their name is boring).  The daughters are chasing after boys, the dad is rolling his eyes, and everyone’s all atwitter about the upcoming World’s Fair. Though the plot of Meet Me in St. Louis holds little interest for me,  the visual pop of Vincente Minnelli’s directorial style is what truly makes this film a classic. The vibrant costumes, unusual lighting, and ahead-of-its-time Halloween horror sequence—these are the elements I keep coming back to.

This film tends to get lumped into holiday movies due to Judy Garland’s heartbreakingly lovely rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and the red velvet dress she wears. This was the moment the world sat up and took note of Garland, child actress no more. She’s beautiful and sexy, like something out of a John Singer Sargent painting. While watching Meet Me in St. Louis, celebrate Judy with this Red Velvet Martini.

Red Velvet Martini

2 oz Cake vodka

1 oz White Crème de Cacao

3/4 oz Grenadine

1/4 oz Simple syrup

2-3 dashes Aztec bitters

Chocolate drop for garnish

Mix liquid ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigoriously, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a chocolate drop.

Red Velvet Martini

Because this film is full of iconic costumes, it makes me eager to learn more about the stories behind them. Until the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens in Los Angeles, whet your appetite with the book Hollywood Costume. And for anyone interested in the scary underbelly of a World’s Fair, I highly recommend Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. Chronicling the true story of a serial killer targeting visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair, this book will have you wondering if the Smith family home is really as boring as it seems. Cheers, and happy reading!

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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Rocky Horror

Image credit: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975.

You know what time it is….. Time to do the Time Warp again!!! Truly, that’s what The Rocky Horror Picture Show (DVD/Download) has come to feel like. It takes me right back to being a weird teenager, the kind who hung out in the art room and read Nabokov, dreaming of a place to belong. But then this film came along and changed everything. Suddenly, it was cool to be a freak. It was cool to get excited about watching a movie with a theater full of other freaks, who threw rice and yelled “Say it!” It was cool to be different.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show isn’t just a musical, or a horror film, or even a spoof of a sci-fi/horror film. It’s all those things, and more. It’s a communal film experience that brings people together. It’s an excuse to be silly, to laugh and sing and ogle Dr. Frank N. Furter’s “monster” Rocky in his gold lamé hotpants. It’s a movie that makes you feel free to talk about sexuality, because seriously, everybody’s touching everybody. And even though it’s set in a spooky mansion on a rainy night, and even though Meat Loaf is eaten (the singer, not the beefy entree), there’s nothing scary about Rocky Horror. It’s campy, it’s funny, and it’s the perfect movie to celebrate Halloween.

Since this is such a party movie, I’m making a really fun punch perfect for all your Halloween shindigs. It takes its color from Dr. Frank N. Furter’s eye makeup, and the flavor is sweet, boozy, and effervescent. While watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I recommend making Transylvanian Punch.

Transylvanian Punch

3 cups Blueberry Juice

2 cups Dark Rum

1/3 cup lime juice

2 cups Topo Chico

Gummi Eye Ball Ice Cubes

1 Tbsp Activated Charcoal Powder

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl, stirring gently until well mixed.

Transylvanian punch

I love the dress-up component of Halloween, and what’s great about this film is that it celebrates the art of costuming, and the idea that if you can dream it, you can be it. Rocky Horror meant a lot to this weird teenager, and it still means a lot to this weird adult. Nothing… will ever be the same. Cheers!

Mamma Mia!

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mamma mia

Image credit: Mamma Mia!, 2008

Before we go again, shouldn’t we take the chance to recall our last summer? That one where Mamma Mia! (DVD/Download) shattered box office expectations to become a colossal hit and had much of the female population saying “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” and eating Greek yogurt? Send an SOS- it’s time to listen to Pierce Brosnan “sing” once more.

I’ll admit- I genuinely enjoy this movie. Despite the cheesiness, despite the lackluster musical abilities of the majority of the cast, despite the enviable tans I know I’ll never personally achieve…. it gets to me. The pain of lost love, the suspense of a paternity reveal, and the tumultuous bond between mother and daughter are like the storylines from a soap opera. And we all know how much I like those.  Plus, there’s ABBA music, beautiful scenery, and shirtless bartenders.  Really, this film just screams Liz Locke.

While most eyes are focused on Meryl Streep, her lovers, and the VERY tan Amanda Seyfried, I’m more interested in the drunk old ladies played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. They’re like a kinder version of AbFab’s Patsy and Edina. Always with the fruity pink drinks, these two. While watching Mamma Mia!, get your Greek on and enjoy this Honey, Honey cocktail.

Honey, Honey

1 small wedge pink grapefruit, peel removed

3-4 Fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish

2 tsp. Greek honey

2 oz Ouzo

3 oz Pink Grapefruit juice

1 oz Campari

Topo Chico sparkling water

In a highball glass, muddle the fresh grapefruit, mint leaves, and honey together. Fill with ice, add Ouzo, grapefruit juice, and Campari. Top with sparkling water, and garnish with another slice of fresh grapefruit and mint.

honey honey

Whether you’re watching the original or the new sequel Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again (I’m still LOL’ing over that title), be sure and have a cocktail on hand. You don’t want to let the opportunity for a drunk sing-a-long to “Dancing Queen” slip through your fingers. Cheers!

La La Land

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La La Land

Image credit: La La Land, 2016

There are some things in life that you just never get over. Your first birds-and-bees talk. The cancellation of My So-Called Life after only one season. And new in 2017- the snub heard round the world, La La Land losing the Academy Award for Best Picture. Faye and Warren tried to cover for the Academy’s oversight, to no avail. It was too late. Somebody put Moonlight on that card and dashed the hopes of all the fools who dream. A year and a half later, I’m still not over it. Time to drink.

To say I love La La Land (DVD/Download) would be a gross understatement. This film encompasses everything I adore about classic movie musicals, a period of cinema when actors (not necessarily singers) were cast in these roles, and directors cared about things like mise en scene and appropriate song transitions. In using Los Angeles as a backdrop for the story of two struggling artists falling in love and struggling to make it in Hollywood, La La Land is able to take advantage of classic movie backdrops we all know and love. The Griffith Observatory; the Sunset Strip; a swanky home in the Hollywood Hills- all become touchstones within this saturated ode to moving pictures. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone make me laugh and cry with their performances, but it’s Los Angeles that makes me dream.

As a struggling jazz musician, Ryan Gosling spends a lot of time in windowless underground martini bars. Bonjour, heaven!  I love the cocktail culture that goes hand-in-hand with this music, so this week I’m using a recipe from one of my new favorite books, Booze & Vinyl by André and Tenaya Darlington.  Their cocktail accompaniment for Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, this martini-relative also pairs well with “City of Stars”.  While watching La La Land, I recommend drinking a Martinez.

Martinez

2 oz Old Tom Gin

1 oz sweet vermouth

1 tsp Maraschino liqueur

2 dashes orange bitters

Lemon twist, for garnish

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice, and stir until combined.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Martinez

I think La La Land means so much to me because I really see myself in these characters.   Like them, I have dreams that have yet to be realized.  And even when that door seems like it’ll never open, and my fist gets sore from banging on it with all my strength, I still have to smile and say I’d do it all again. Because that’s what dreamers do. Cheers!

West Side Story

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West Side Story

Image credit: West Side Story, 1961

I have a very important question for all you Cinema Sips readers- are you Team Jet or Team Shark? Personally, I’m Team Jet, due to my not-so-secret crush on Russ Tamblyn. But no matter which side you’re on, I think we can all agree that West Side Story (DVD/Download) is one of the most delightfully jazzy discourses on immigration and gang warfare that cinema has to offer.

Based on the Broadway hit with music by Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Instead of the Montagues and Capulets, it’s the Jets and the Sharks- Polish vs. Puerto Rican on the mean streets of New York. Jet Tony falls for Shark Maria, and we pretty much know these star-crossed lovers are doomed from the get-go. I adore the production design- one big Technicolor feast for the eyes. Even the songs are catchy, and this coming from someone who is emphatically Anti-Sondheim. Maybe it’s the beautiful Bernstein score that rescues his lyrics. This is one of those rare musicals that’s never going to seem dated, mainly because the story of Romeo and Juliet is so timeless. Plus, what girl hasn’t twirled around the bedroom singing “I Feel Pretty”? Just me? Really? Well okay then.

One of my favorite songs in the film is “America”, Rita Moreno’s snappy ode to her adopted home. However, her native territory of Puerto Rico is no slouch either. It’s got some great things going for it, such as the eggnog-esque cocktail Coquito. Sweet, boozy, flavorful- it’s the perfect pairing for this film. While watching West Side Story, I recommend drinking Coquito.

Coquito

2 cans coconut cream

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 can evaporated milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups rum

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a blender, mixing well until frothy. Refrigerate overnight, then serve chilled over ice.

Coquito

I like to think that if every American could just watch this incredible film, there would be no talk of a wall or fights about Dreamers. Every immigrant, no matter how they got here or where they came from, deserves a chance at a better life. That’s America. Quick- how can we orchestrate a Turner Classic Movies takeover of Fox News?? Cheers!