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Tag Archives: John Travolta

Staying Alive

Image credit: Staying Alive, 1983

Two great things came out of the year 1983—me, and this week’s Cinema Sips pick, Staying Alive (Disc/Download). I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this the movie where John Travolta does hip thrusts next to Jamie Lee Curtis? The answer is no, that’s a weird little flick called Perfect. Which, I admit, is what I thought I would be watching when I put on Staying Alive. Nevertheless, my accident turned into a happy one when I realized I might be the only person on the planet who thinks this is a decent sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Allow me to make my case.

First, I think we’re far enough away from that Bee Gee’s disco fever dream to admit that while SNF had some gritty, hard-hitting moments, it was still John Travolta in a tight white leisure suit strutting his hips on a light-up floor. It’s cheesy as hell. So when Sylvester Stallone directed him to shake those hips again in a Broadway chorus line, why was that suddenly too cheesy? Any fan of Showgirls will be wowed by Tony Manero’s big Broadway debut in “Satan’s Alley”, and yacht rock fans will delight in the soundtrack, featuring the vocal talents of Cynthia Rhodes of Dirty Dancing fame. Honestly, I want to believe that Penny left the trauma of her back-alley abortion behind in the Catskills and reemerged twenty years later as a successful Broadway dancer. This all seems totally plausible to me.

Back when I covered Saturday Night Fever, I paired it with a Brooklyn cocktail, a lower borough version of the Manhattan. But now that Tony’s moved downtown, it’s time to class things up with this brandy version. While watching Staying Alive, I recommend drinking a Metropolitan cocktail.

Metropolitan

2 oz Brandy

1 oz Sweet Vermouth

½ tsp. Simple Syrup

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine all ingredients. Shake well, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon, if desired.

Maybe I have an overly generous view of Staying Alive because I’ve been where Tony is (hell, at the time of writing this, I am Tony). I’ve crossed some hurdles in the road toward publication, but I still have a few more to go. Like Tony, I’m hustling, trying to make sure my dream stays alive. It can be a hard thing to accept the fact that not everyone can be “one of those people” who encounter success incredibly early in their lives (and yes, I kind of hate those people). Tony and I really have to work for it, but man—do we have potential. Cheers!

Saturday Night Fever

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Image credit: Saturday Night Fever, 1977

Sometimes, when the days are dark and the world is falling apart, you just want to forget it all for a night and dance. Cue Saturday Night Fever (Disc/Download). This picture returned to my radar after watching a fantastic documentary about the Bee Gees, whose soundtrack was perhaps more influential and long-lasting than the film itself. However, watching it now, I’m once again blown away by how complex and interesting this “little disco movie” really is.

As we get our first glimpse of John Travolta walking down his Brooklyn street carrying a can of paint, the viewer gets an immediate sense of this character before he even says a word. Tony Manero is confident, slick, knows how to move to the beat of a song, yet seems to be seeking the approval of every person around him. We expect him to be the stereotypical male bimbo, but it’s a credit to the writers and Travolta that Tony is so nuanced. He’s horribly misogynist, yet shows genuine remorse when called out on it. He throws out racial slurs, yet gets mad when the Hispanic couple in his dance competition doesn’t get a fair shot. He’s the king of Brooklyn, but knows he’s wasting his life as a big fish in a small pond. It’s interesting to watch this in 2021 because here is a white male who has been brought up in a culture which inherently disrespects minorities and women, but gives hints he might have the courage and willingness to change. That’s just not something we see from a lot of men nowadays, on screen or in person. Do we need disco to make a comeback? Because on that dance floor, with the lights spinning all around, everyone is equal. Either you can dance or you can’t, and one’s value is completely based in how hard they’ve worked to perfect the steps. Rich, poor, black, white, brown, male, female, gay, straight—none of it matters. Music is everything.

To celebrate the outer borough Tony and his lady friend Stephanie so desperately want to escape, I’ll be drinking this variation on the Manhattan. It’s looks similar, but has more bitter notes (it’s probably just sick of crossing that bridge every day). While watching Saturday Night Fever, I recommend drinking a classic Brooklyn cocktail.

Brooklyn

1 ½ oz Rye Whiskey

½ oz Dry Vermouth

¼ oz Orange Bitters

¼ oz Maraschino Liqueur

Luxardo Maraschino cherry for garnish

Combine whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and maraschino liqueur in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a chilled martini glass.  Drop in a Luxardo cherry.

It’s surprising to me that this movie is sometimes labeled a romance on streaming platforms. Although it concludes with Tony and Stephanie sharing a soulful moment set to “How Deep is Your Love”, and it has some sexy dance scenes, that’s as much of a love story as we’re given. If anything, the romance is between Tony and disco. So that’s why, every time I’m combing through a stack of vinyl and see that familiar cover of John Travolta in his white suit (because every vinyl stack has one), I find myself smiling. In the end, Tony and disco had their happily ever after; it endures on my turntable. Cheers!

Face/Off

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Face Off

Image credit: Face/Off, 1997

Man, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. I never thought I’d see the day where I long for a movie like Face/Off (DVD/Download), but I’m officially there. Big-name stars making a high octane thriller with an ORIGINAL script, that’s not a sequel to or reboot of something else? Just doesn’t happen too often in mainstream Hollywood these days. Nicolas Cage keeps throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, but will there ever be another film that showcases his talent for lunacy (and, I admit, pretty good acting) quite like Face/Off? God I hope so.

This movie might not work so well if it weren’t for the combined performances of John Travolta and Nicholas Cage. As the Joker-like domestic terrorist Castor Troy (remember when terrorists were angry American white males?), Nicholas Cage is batsh*t crazy. Parading around in a priest costume, groping choir girls, waving around his golden guns- this is a part Nicholas Cage was born for. But then, THEN he falls into a coma, and family-man FBI agent John Travolta is compelled to have Cage’s face put on his body to foil a bomb plot. AND THEN- Cage wakes up, sees that he has no face, and puts the iced Travolta face on HIS body. I swear, even the best soap opera scribes couldn’t make this stuff up. Now Travolta is forced to turn up the creepy, and Cage has to act like John Travolta doing a bad Nicolas Cage impression. Mistaken identities and slow-motion shootouts ensue.

One little gem that’s always stayed with me from Face/Off is Caster Troy’s claim that he could eat a “peach” for hours. Damn if that line doesn’t run through my head every summer when peach season hits central Texas. Welcome to my nightmare. While watching Face/Off, I recommend drinking a Peach Shandy.

Peach Shandy

1.5 oz Deep Eddy Peach Vodka

1 bottle peach-flavored beer (I used Ballast Point Peach Kolsch)

4 oz sparkling peach soda

Build drink in a pint glass, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a peach slice.

Peach Shandy

Image by @pop_up_cobra

Where Face/Off falls short for me is the flimsy explanation of how the voices and bodies of the two actors could be manipulated so easily to match the new faces. Sucking the skin off of someone’s head and transplanting it seamlessly with no scarring? Yeah, OK. Lasers. But the idea of Nicholas Cage’s consumption-ridden Leaving Las Vegas body suddenly being able to pass as a beefed up Travolta? Now that’s Hollywood magic. Cheers!

Grease

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Image credit: Grease, 1978

Image credit: Grease, 1978

Olivia Newton-John in skin-tight pants. A thin (okay, pretty hot) John Travolta, before he lost his mind and started Adele Dazeem-gate. Frankie Avalon in a creepy heaven-as-beauty parlor dream sequence. This is the stuff that high school is made of.  This week’s back-to-school classic movie musical always made me feel better about having to return to classrooms and social cliques, after blissful summers spent watching Nickelodeon and reading alone in my room. Maybe, just maybe, I’d have a gym teacher as cool as Sid Caesar. Or by some miracle, no gym class at all! I was a big dreamer back then….

Grease (DVD/Download) is a wonderful film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, starring John Travolta as greaser Danny Zuko, and Olivia Newton-John as his good-girl love interest Sandy. They meet at the beach over the summer, then inexplicably, amazingly, Sandy moves from Australia to Rydell High. She makes friends with the Pink Ladies on her first day of school (a pretty awesome girl clique led by Stockard Channing), and spends most of the movie alternatively pissed at Danny for being a typical high school guy, then in love with him as soon as he acts like a normal human being. I’m not a fan of the ending, when Sandy decides that the only way she can be happy is to slither into some tight nylon pants and tease her hair in an effort to be “bad” like Danny, but that’s a discussion for another time. All in all, Grease is a fun movie with catchy songs, charismatic actors, and a cavalcade of 50’s TV stars. Seriously, Eve Arden as the principal?? Joan Blondell as a waitress at the local teen hangout? My town was so boring in comparison.

For the past few months I’ve been drinking La Ferme Julien rosé wine from Trader Joe’s. It’s light, fruity, and perfect for the last of those hot summer days. And summer ni-highhhhhhts! At only $6 a bottle I definitely don’t hesitate to use it in a sangria, and what better occasion than this movie to invite your girlfriends over for a boozy slumber party, a la Frenchie’s house? While watching Grease, I recommend drinking Pink Lady Sangria.

Pink Lady Sangria

1 bottle rosé wine

¼ cup brandy

2 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ cups raspberries

1 ½ cups strawberries

1 sliced lemon

1 ½ cups club soda

Mix the wine, brandy and sugar together in a pitcher, then after the sugar dissolves, add the fruit. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then add the club soda just before serving. Twinkies optional.

pink lady sangria

Grease is an easy film to mock, due to the prevalence of 30 year old actors pretending to be 17, campy jokes, and John Travolta’s bizarre falsetto.  But there’s something undeniably appealing about young love and Stockard Channing’s boozy, bawdy Rizzo.  Plus- that Bee Gee’s intro- amazing!  Grease is the word. Cheers!