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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!

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Rebel Without a Cause

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rebel-without-a-cause

Image credit: Rebel Without a Cause, 1955

Every five years or so, I pull out Rebel Without a Cause and take a deep breath. I know what’s coming- a film with so much tension that I feel wrecked afterward. Why do I watch? Because I like to be reminded of the power of cinema, and the actor’s ability to make emotions resonate with a viewer. James Dean was one such prolific actor, and Rebel Without a Cause (DVD/Download) is his enduring masterpiece.

Before the teen films of John Hughes or Amy Heckerling, even before Splendor in the Grass, there was Rebel. This film is important to our cinematic history because it’s one of the first widely viewed films that gives an honest portrayal of teen angst. That restless feeling of being scared even when you’re not sure what you’re scared of, like you’re crawling out of your own skin (what Holly Golightly categorized as “the mean reds”)- that’s the emotion that this film captures so perfectly. By watching a day in the life of these Los Angeles teens, we start to empathize with the hopeless feelings of being misunderstood and judged for reasons beyond one’s control. Rebel may have been made in 1955, but it will never feel dated because those emotions will never stop being real.

The film opens with a scene of James Dean rolling around drunk on the sidewalk. Eventually his public display of disorderly behavior lands him in a jail cell where he meets fellow delinquents played by Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. I’m not saying you should drink enough to find yourself in the same boat, but if there was ever a movie that needed to be chased with a cocktail, it’s this one. While watching Rebel Without a Cause, I recommend drinking a Toreador.

Toreador

1 part Spanish red wine (such as Tempranillo)

1 part lemon-lime soda

Slice of lemon

Build drink in a glass over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with the lemon slice.

toreador

This cocktail reminds me of that iconic jacket James Dean wears- a fire-engine red number that’s slightly geeky by today’s standards, but on him, with that popped collar, looks effortlessly cool.  The color symbolizes the fire and passion churning under his skin, and as bullies and thugs taunt him, he actually becomes that toreador, wielding his switchblade like a spear.  Rebel Without a Cause gained notoriety due to Dean’s untimely death just before the picture’s release, but even without the backstory, the film itself is Shakespearean in its tragedy.  You might need that full bottle of wine tonight.  Cheers!

Miracle on 34th Street

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miracle on 34th street

Image credit: Miracle on 34th Street, 1947

If you haven’t begun your holiday shopping yet, what in the world are you waiting for?? Smart folks like me start in November, but if you still need a little incentive, I suggest watching this week’s film Miracle on 34th Street (DVD/Download) to put you in the gifting mood.

Recently deceased acting legend Maureen O’Hara stars in this classic holiday film about a Macy’s department store Santa Claus who just might be the real deal. O’Hara plays an unlucky-in-love divorcee raising her daughter (played by a very young Natalie Wood) to be skeptical of all things intangible- including holiday miracles. Then Kris K. comes along (that’s Kringle, not Kardashian), and he seems like more than just a kind-hearted old man. Claiming to be Santa Claus, he attracts psych evaluators and small children alike. I love that this film from the 1940’s features a strong independent woman like O’Hara, her character an event director at the flagship store. Heck, that’s an impressive job even now. And the sappy message of the movie (Santa is real if you believe!) gets a much needed boost by terrific acting performances and sharp dialogue. At times, I feel like I’m watching a classic Howard Hawkes film, instead of one of the most beloved Christmas movies ever made.

One of my favorite scenes involves Kris Kringle showing off his impressive Santa skills while talking to a Dutch girl. He speaks to her in Dutch because, of course, Santa speaks the language of all children. This inspired my cocktail this week, using the Dutch spirit Genever, a stronger, early version of the typical gin we know today. While watching Miracle on 34th Street, I recommend drinking a Sinterklaas.

Sinterklaas

2 oz Genever

2 oz Apple Cider

½ oz honey syrup (equal parts honey and water)

1 dash Angostura bitters

Cinnamon stick for garnish

Combine ingredients in a small saucepan, and heat on the stove until it just barely simmers. Pour into a heat-safe glass or mug, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Sinterklaas

Your current thoughts about Santa Claus are probably dependent on your age (and I doubt I have many 6 year old readers of this blog), but this movie is so great that it makes me want to believe in Santa Claus. At the very least, it makes me long for the days when department stores were classy and sophisticated, instead of overrun with cheap merchandise and bad lighting. Best of luck with your holiday shopping, and if you find yourself in a Macy’s this Christmas, plan on having a cocktail afterwards- you’ll need it. Cheers!

Splendor in the Grass

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Image Credit Warner Bros, Splendor in the Grass, 1961

Image Credit Warner Bros, Splendor in the Grass, 1961

I’m switching gears a bit on my high school movie binge this May to revisit a classic high school film, and by classic I mean pre-John Hughes. Splendor in the Grass (DVD/Download) was released in 1961 and stars Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty (in his first feature film role) as two star-crossed Kansas teenage lovers. Though I’m of course a big fan of classic cinema, this film has always felt timeless to me. It captures teen angst in such a pure way- ie. that feeling of every little problem being a life or death situation, the intensity of emotions, and inability to wait for the future to happen. On the surface it’s a high school movie about “going all the way”, but really it’s about the passion of youth and the remembrance of things past.

Splendor in the Grass tells the tale of Bud Stamper and Deanie Loomis, two teenagers in rural Kansas. He’s a rich boy who wants to shirk the family oil business in favor of becoming a farmer, and she’s the daughter of a humble shopkeeper. When the movie begins, it’s clear that Bud and Deanie are the most popular couple in school, and genuinely in love. However, soon teenage lust rears its ugly head, and Bud can’t reconcile his passionate yearnings with the “good girl” on his arm. There is a betrayal, and Deanie is driven mad with grief. The film is set against the background of the Roaring 20’s, and it’s fun to see Bud’s flapper sister come to town to shake up the family. Deanie’s clueless mother also deserves special mention, since her cure-all for mental illness seems to be a big plate of mystery meat and gravy.  As the Fresh Prince so wisely said, “Parents just don’t understand.”  The beautiful Natalie Wood does an amazing job of becoming unhinged, and it’s easy to see why Warren Beatty was a heartthrob in his day- Yowza! Sorry, but he puts pretty much any teen idol of recent years to shame.

My drink this week is inspired by the Wordsworth poem that is recited during the film- “Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we will grieve not; rather find strength in what remains behind.”  This drink references floral notes and farm life in Kansas, and I’m using an exciting new beverage I found at my local store called Tekeen.  This is a pre-mixed alcoholic drink, but of course I like to fancy it up with a little St. Germain.  When watching Splendor in the Grass, I recommend drinking a glass of Mabel’s Merriment.

Mabel’s Merriment

1 1/2 oz Tekeen Cucumber Lime beverage

1 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur

2 oz club soda

Fresh Key Limes

Build ingredients over ice in a tall Collins glass.  Garnish with fresh key lime slices.

Mabels merriment

I think everyone can relate to the feeling that what is happening in high school is so tragically important at the time, and this film shows that the bonds formed during that period are never really forgotten. Perhaps that’s why I love high school movies so much, for they are the films I watched over and over again as a teenager, as I was just beginning to shape my identity. In many ways I feel a closer bond with the characters in these films than I do to my actual classmates from that time. Watching this movie again (still on the VHS tape I bought in high school!) certainly makes me feel like I attended a reunion of sorts. It’s no secret I hated high school, but I absolutely loved that time in my life when I was discovering cinema, and watching anything and everything I could get my hands on. I miss those days, when every script and style and actor was new to me, but I will grieve not- rather find strength in the great films that remain behind. Cheers!