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Category Archives: Musicals

All That Jazz

Image credit: All That Jazz, 1979

I don’t know what it is about my personality that makes me compatible with people who love musical theater, but somehow, the universe keeps throwing them my way. I’m left smiling awkwardly when my new friends gush about Hamilton, or the latest Funny Girl revival, pretending the very notion of a live song-and-dance routine doesn’t make me shudder internally. However, there’s one thing that helps me cross the entertainment chasm, and that’s movies about live theater. Now those, I love!! From The Goodbye Girl to Waiting for Guffman to Center Stage, to this week’s Cinema Sips pick All That Jazz (Disc), I can’t get enough backstage drama and tights. Finally, common ground with the Playbill crowd!

I love a good “puttin’ on a show” plot as much as the next person, but All That Jazz takes the trope to a new and exciting level. In this gritty, sexy, Dexedrine-fueled world of stage and screen, director/choreographer Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) struggles to balance his turbulent love life, a new Broadway show, and feature film editing without dropping dead of a heart attack. The fact that he’s seen talking to the Angel of Death (played by a luminous Jessica Lange) in various dream sequences tells us he’s already on his way. This semi-autobiographical film from director/choreographer Bob Fosse asks us to consider how much can be piled on a person’s plate before they collapse under the weight of responsibility. This movie gets me thinking a lot about the inevitability of death, and how we humans have to balance making the most of our time here while ensuring we have that time in the first place. Joe slogs along, shooting that Visine in his eyes, taking that morning shower, popping that pill, announcing “It’s showtime, folks!” because to do the alternative is unthinkable. His body will give up before his mind or his will, and rest comes only to the dead.

Leave it to Joe Gideon to imagine that Death comes in the form of a beautiful woman in a nightclub. I’m still not sure about the frothy white getup she’s wearing (I might have opted for something more “Halston”), but I’m willing to go along with the surrealist costume because it inspires this week’s cocktail. While watching All That Jazz, I recommend drinking a classic White Lady.

White Lady

2 oz Plymouth gin

½ oz Cointreau

¾ oz lemon juice

¼ oz simple syrup

1 egg white

Combine all ingredients in a shaker without ice. Dry shake for about thirty seconds, add ice, then shake again for an additional thirty seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.

In case I haven’t fully sold this movie yet, All That Jazz’s fictional play NY/LA has one of the sexiest dance sequences ever committed to film. A big part of that is the lighting and cinematography, and frankly, I just don’t see it working from the cheap seats in the back. The camera enables us to be up close and personal with these bodies, both strong and fragile at the same time, putting it all into perspective. There’s no business like show business to make you realize that every day you’re still alive, putting on that performance, is a miracle. Cheers!

Fun in Acapulco

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Image credit: Fun in Acapulco, 1963

Cinema Sips is traveling this week, to 1960s Acapulco! If the question ever arises of where and when I would go if I had a time machine, at the top of the list would be this glittering resort town in the era of movie stars, margaritas, and luxury hotels. And no film makes it look as glamorous as the Elvis Presley classic Fun in Acapulco (Disc/Download).

As with most Elvis movies, we’re given a fairly thin plot and almost zero character development. However, there are beaches! And Edith Head dresses! And a charming song “Margarita” that I would love to play on a vinyl record during my next cocktail hour. But back to the clothes. Ursula Andress’s costumes are a technicolor feast for the eyes, and I wish I could find even one or two of these ensembles in current retail shops. Elvis does a decent job of playing a PTSD-suffering former circus performer, whose only solution to overcoming his fear of heights is to dive from the famous Acapulco cliffs. He also gets a gig singing in a hotel nightclub, along with a daytime job as their lifeguard. I’m not even complaining about this paper-thin excuse to show Bond Girl Andress in a bikini again because I enjoy nothing more than a good swimming pool scene, and this movie is full of them.

Something else this movie is full of is margaritas! Frankly, I don’t think the prop guy had ever seen a margarita before making this because the ones in the movie look like salt-rimmed coupes of water. Loyal readers of Cinema Sips (or literally, anyone who’s ever been to a Mexican restaurant) know better. So this week, let’s make a cocktail worthy of The King- the Cadillac Margarita.

Cadillac Margarita

1 ½ oz Anejo Tequila

¾ oz Fresh Lime Juice

¾ oz Agave Nectar

½ oz Grand Marnier

Lime Twist

Combine tequila, lime juice, and agave nectar in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Slowly float the Grand Marnier over the top. Garnish with a lime twist.

I find that this movie only improves with repeat viewings, especially once you stop trying to make sense of the plot and just enjoy the pretty scenery and hilarious songs. “No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car” is a personal favorite, as Elvis laments the difficulties of getting it on with a female matador in her tiny vehicle. Viva el amor, indeed. Cheers!

The Wizard of Oz

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Image Credit: The Wizard of Oz, 1939

When it comes to Halloween, Disney and Marvel usually get all the attention. True, I loved being Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and of course Ariel from The Little Mermaid (even though I had to wear a cardigan over my seashell bra), but the costume I still look back on with the most fondness was that of a warbling, bubblegum pink Glenda the Good Witch. MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (Disc/Download) is a movie I’d seen small parts of throughout the years, but rarely all the way through. Watching it again from beginning to end, I was shocked to realize A) how short it is without all the commercial breaks, and B) that I am still unable to keep my eyes open after the drowsy poppy scene. Talk about an immersive experience!

I think we can all agree that without the talent of Judy Garland, this movie would have ended up in the dustbin of history. Color film is no longer a novelty, costumes and special effects have become more realistic over time, and musical numbers have gotten more impressive. But there’s something about Judy’s innocent yet accomplished voice that gets me every time. The way she utters lines that have become classic in our lexicon (There’s no place like home…) evokes a feeling of magic that has nothing to do with munchkins, witches, or fantastical scarecrows and lions. The Wizard of Oz contains so much earnestness, you get the sense you’re watching a production made by people who truly believe in the power of movies. The silver-painted tin man didn’t need to look within himself or search for a powerful man behind the curtain—all he had to do was look around at the key grips, lighting technicians, costumers, and camera operators to see real wizardry and heart.

As mentioned before, I always fall asleep right after the poppy scene. Sorry Dorothy- your script drags a little there. To keep myself awake, I need to mix a caffeinated cocktail and wait patiently for the flying monkeys to pick the action up again. While watching The Wizard of Oz, I recommend drinking this Black Emerald cocktail, adapted from the book Celebrity Cocktails by Brian van Flandern.

Black Emerald

1 1/2 oz Vodka

1 Black Tea Bag

1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

1/2 oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Club Soda

Fresh Mint Leaves

Steep tea bag in club soda for about five minutes. Add all other ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Add tea-infused club soda, tumble roll back and forth once, then double strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with mint.

Sometimes I wonder if Disney just couldn’t handle its main Halloween competitor and was always lurking in the shadows, waiting for a revenge opportunity. It took seventy years, but they finally had the last word as Disney World execs shut down the Great Movie Ride, robbing future generations of the opportunity to visit Munchkinland IRL. With its fake plastic flowers, colorful glitter sets, and bright yellow brick road, for five glorious minutes a group of tourists got to feel like Dorothy and Toto, dropped into a strange and magical world. Disney can keep their new Star Wars Land or Toy Story Land, or whatever lame substitution they’ve dreamed up—my home is forever with Dorothy, her ruby slippers, and a glistening pink ball coming down from the sky. Cheers!

Beauty and the Beast

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Image credit: Beauty and the Beast, 2017

Ask any female bookworm who grew up in the ’90s what her favorite Disney movie was, and you’d probably get the same answer- Beauty and the Beast (Disc/Download). Smart, shy girl doesn’t fit in with the people in her small town, longs for the type of adventure she’s only read about in stories, but feels resigned to a quiet life with her dad and his gadgets. Then, a gruff hero comes into her life and woos her with a library and fancy soup. To say that I idolized this character in 1991 would be an understatement. I had Belle dolls, Belle posters, Belle Halloween costumes, and even a prized Belle Trapper Keeper gracing my desk. I also had a Beast doll you could pull the head off of to make him magically transform into a human (which, looking back on it, was a little creepy). In short, I was A FAN. I was skeptical that a live action version of this tale could ever work, but I should have known Disney would make all my adult Belle dreams come true too.

I remember the first time I saw this adaptation in the theater a few years ago. Emma Watson opened her mouth to sing “Little town, it’s a quiet village….” and reader, I got goosebumps. These songs were so ingrained in my memory that I could recall every word and note with perfect precision. It was like a trip back to childhood, where movies seemed completely wondrous, and characters lived in your head in a way they simply don’t when you’re an adult. I loved A Star Is Born, but let’s just say I don’t have Jackson or Ally dolls in my bedroom. But hey, if Disney wants to make a Dan Stevens “Beast” doll, or even a Luke Evans “Gaston” doll with that show-stopping baritone voice recorded on a pull string, they’ve still got a buyer in me.

Taking place in a small French village, and featuring a magic rose that slowly drops its petals, this movie deserves the kind of cocktail you could enjoy sipping for hours in a gigantic library by the light of a talking candelabra. While watching Beauty and the Beast, I recommend drinking a Rosewater Gimlet.

Rosewater Gimlet

2 oz Gin

1 oz Lime Juice

¾ oz Simple Syrup

½ oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

3 drops Rosewater

Rose Petal garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass containing an ice ball. Garnish with a rose petal.

Although there are some new tunes added to this version, the standout song is still “Tale as Old as Time”, sung here by Emma Thompson instead of Angela Lansbury. Really, this is the perfect anthem, for what’s more classic than an enemies-to-lovers story featuring a plucky girl and a gruff hero with a heart of gold? Thirty years later and it’s still bringing me as much joy as it did when I was eight. Cheers!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

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Image credit: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 2001

Do you remember the first movie you saw after leaving home as an adult? In my case, it was August 2001 (just a couple weeks before September 11th would change the world forever), and I found myself alone in a dorm room, at a college where I didn’t particularly want to be enrolled. Instead of unpacking, I decided to embrace my newfound freedom and hike up the street to the nearest cinema. Like a beacon, the poster for Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Disc/Download) screamed out at me. Securing the last seat in the tiny theater, the lights dimmed, and reader, this was the moment my movie-going life truly began.

For those unfamiliar, Hedwig is the adaptation of the off-Broadway smash hit about a gender-queer East Berlin rocker who becomes the star of a small cabaret act touring across Middle America. The band “The Angry Inch” is a reference to the botched sex change operation that’s left Hedwig somewhere between male/female, and it’s through their songs that we learn the saga of how young Hansel transitioned into the fabulous diva currently belting out power ballads from under an impressive collection of ever-changing wigs. This movie is a thought-provoking exploration of gender identity and love, featuring one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. And for an eighteen-year-old girl who was still struggling to figure out a lot of things, Hedwig was an inspiration. This character forces us to look at the pieces of ourselves, even the ones we want to run from, in order to accept them all as perfect. Male, female, gay, straight, costumed in drag or naked in the street—we are all human, and must all learn to love ourselves in whatever shape we’ve assumed.

 A scene I particularly love is when Hansel meets the American soldier who would hatch a plan to get them out of East Berlin through marriage and the infamous “operation”. Lured by gummy bears, it’s like watching Adam and Eve take a bite of the apple. Suddenly, this young German’s grey world has a hint of color. Let’s toast Hedwig not with a vermouth on the rocks (because blegh), but with this colorful Gummi Bear cocktail.

Gummi Bear

1 ½ oz Raspberry Vodka

1 oz Peach Schnapps

½ oz Lime Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

½ oz Cranberry Juice

3 oz Lemon-lime soda

Gummy Bears (Haribo of course!)

Combine Vodka, Peach Schnapps, lime juice, simple syrup, and cranberry juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with lemon-lime soda, and garnish with gummy bears.

I’ll never forget leaving the little theater in Dupont Circle on that hot August night, feeling like my own world just transitioned to color too. Feeling like things were going to be okay because I had myself, and I had movies. And when the world’s a bit amiss, there’s always makeup and a tape deck. Cheers!

That Thing You Do!

Image Credit: That Thing You Do!, 1996

Anyone who knows me (or really anyone who’s ever read this blog) knows I have a thing for the 1960s. But where did this obsession come from? I blame the following: endless Nick at Night marathons in the ’90s, and this week’s movie, That Thing You Do! (Disc/Download).

Having been raised on the Pittsburgh oldies station in my dad’s car, I knew this era’s music inside and out. So when Tom Hanks “the director” burst onto the scene with his ode to ’60s pop, I was instantly hooked. Add to that Liv Tyler’s cigarette pants and high ponytails, Tom Everett Scott’s electronics shop wonderland (THOSE VINTAGE RADIOS!!!), and all those references to forgotten stars like Gina Lollobrigida and Suzanne Pleshette, and I was officially a goner. I’d found my pop culture home, and the mid-1960s was it. I wanted to live in this world where the One-ders could rise to superstardom on the strength of one hit song, and not flashy boy-band dance moves. This world where rock bands got to pretend-perform in movies as Capt. Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters. This world where jazz and rock & roll was still somewhat interconnected, and a talented musician like Guy Patterson could perform in front of screaming teenage girls one minute, and studio icons the next. Maybe, at the end of it all, I just wanted to imagine a world where I could leave Pennsylvania and follow my dreams—wearing those cigarette pants, of course.

It’s still incredibly odd to me that Tom Hanks hasn’t found more projects like this to direct, because clearly the guy’s got skills. He made a perfect gem of a movie that captures a specific moment in time, pulling together exceptionally talented people to realize his vision. Let’s celebrate this maestro of ’60s nostalgia with one of my favorite cocktails, the classic Tom Collins.

Tom Collins

2 oz Gin

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

Club Soda

Lemon garnish

Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Top with Club Soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with lemon.

I did a thing I pretty much never do, which was to watch an unedited version of this movie one lazy Friday night. I know a lot of people enjoy Special Features and Extended Cuts, but to me, theatrical cuts exist for a reason. In most cases, it’s the best version everyone could agree on. But I got curious, wondering what was tossed from my perfect film, and WOW it was a lot. For example, poor Charlize took the biggest hit, and now that strange Spartacus line finally makes more sense. Sort of. Also- Tom Hanks’ manager character was actually gay?? That’s actually something I wish they’d left in. Aside for some great dresses that ended up on the cutting room floor, most of the edits were necessary. Would I watch the extended version again? Probably not—it was extremely long and slow-moving. But as a lesson in how all the parts have to come together in just the right way to tell the best story possible, it was invaluable. Like the difference between the Oneders vs. The Wonders, simple is usually better. Cheers!

Dangerous When Wet

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Dangerous When Wet

Image credit: Dangerous When Wet, 1953.

I have a confession to make: I’ve been cheating on Doris Day with Esther Williams. I never thought I would find an actress as charming, classy, and strong as Doris, but then Esther swam into my life. I loved her in Million Dollar Mermaid, but thought the film as a whole could have used more cocktails. THEN, I caught this week’s flick Dangerous When Wet (Disc/Download), which features roughly the same plot as her most iconic role, with the essential additions of alcohol and Fernando Lamas. Dear reader, I’m in cinema heaven.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to dive into (pun intended) the Esther Williams filmography. After all, I am long-obsessed with swimming pools, and I happen to own an Esther Williams-brand bathing suit. I admired her as an innovator and symbol of athletic grace long before I saw any of her movies, but now that I’ve watched a few, I can’t get enough. In Dangerous When Wet, Esther plays a wholesome farmer’s daughter from Arkansas who gets hired by phony vitamin company Liquipep to swim the English Channel with her entire family. While across the pond, she meets cute with a French champagne maker (I know, I KNOW!!) who shows her there’s more to life than swimming. Fernando Lamas is decidedly dreamy as her romantic lead, and let’s just say there is a very risqué scene set in a bathhouse changing room that has some major Pillow Talk vibes. The two lovers follow it up with a moonlight swim in his family’s pool, synchronizing their movements in the water. Busby Berkeley really was not needed in this picture, with so much chemistry heating up the screen.

Romance aside, what I enjoy most about Esther Williams films is their interpretation of what it means to be a women. Esther is allowed to be vulnerable in regards to her personal relationships, but also brave enough to take on incredible physical challenges. She’s graceful in her underwater sequences, and strong while proving her endurance in long-distance swimming. She can do back-flips with Tom & Jerry and swim twenty miles across the English Channel, all while nursing a wicked Liquipep hangover. While watching Dangerous When Wet, toast Esther and the other fierce women in your life with this English Channel cocktail.

English Channel

2 oz Earl Grey Tea, cooled

¾ oz Galliano

¾ oz Cointreau

Dried Bergamot (or lemon) slice

Brew tea and allow to cool. Combine with Galliano and Cointreau in a shaker with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with Bergamot or lemon.

English Channel

There’s a moment toward the end of the movie when Esther’s French lover jumps into the Channel to help coach her across the finish line. I literally rubbed my arms with glee when this happened, not because Fernando Lamas stripped down to his boxer briefs (though, that didn’t hurt), but because he didn’t try to stop her from continuing. He knew she could make it all the way; she just needed a cheerleader. And now, in the year 2020, she’s got another one in me. Cheers!

Little Voice

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little voice

Image Credit: Little Voice, 1998

For something called Little Voice (Disc/Download), this might be one of the loudest movies I’ve ever experienced.  From the shrill nagging of Brenda Blethyn, to Michael Caine’s tour-de-force meltdown, to the amazing musical mimicry by Jane Horrocks, my ears are still ringing.  Let’s take a quiet breath before we discuss a magical movie that fostered my love of the classic chanteuse.

Set in a crappy seaport town, Little Voice is part of the late ‘90s heyday of quirky British cinema. Films like Brassed OffBilly Elliott, and The Full Monty give the impression that England is a cold, grey place where everyone’s broke, the food is terrible, but somehow people can sing and dance really well.  As Little Voice, Jane Horrocks plays a young woman clearly on the autism spectrum, who has the ability to mimic the famous female singers in her father’s record collection.  She belts out all the standards, sounding EXACTLY like Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, and others.  Her promiscuous, neglectful mother dismisses her talent, until third-rate manager Ray Say (played by Michael Caine in one of his most impressive roles) decides LV could be his new cash cow.  They’re cruel enough to be Disney villains, if we’re viewing Little Voice as the endangered princess and Ewan McGregor her pigeon-raising prince. This movie isn’t for everyone, but if you love old records and the cockney accent of Michael Caine, you won’t be disappointed.

Reuniting Moulin Rouge actors Ewan McGregor and Jim Broadbent, Little Voice places Broadbent in the role of Master of Ceremonies once again- this time at Mr. Boo’s nightclub.  He’s got greasy, stringy hair and a sequined jacket, yet he’s the only one who seems to have even half a heart in this abusive situation.  While watching Little Voice, I recommend drinking this Boo’s Muse.

Boo’s Muse

1 ½ oz Gin

½ oz Campari

½ oz Simple Syrup

¾ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Orange Juice

Sparkling Rosé

Combine gin, Campari, simple syrup, lemon and orange juices in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice.  Top with sparkling rosé.  Garnish with an orange twist.

Boos Muse

In the end, I still love that this film celebrates the female voice.  Whether it’s Judy, or Marilyn, or Brenda Blethyn screeching at the top of her lungs, they all have the power to stop men in their tracks.  Little Voice’s songs may not be original, but this character is one of a kind.  Cheers!

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 realize 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 in the first place?  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!