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Almost Famous

Image credit Columbia Pictures, Almost Famous, 2000

Image credit Columbia Pictures, Almost Famous, 2000

A recent revelation from my music-loving husband inspired this week’s Cinema Sips pick. The man who has an entire room devoted to vintage audio equipment and vinyl records had *gasp* never seen Almost Famous (DVD/Download). How was this possible? I asked myself. You know that scene in a Lifetime movie where the woman realizes that the man she’s married to is full of deep dark secrets and she really doesn’t know him at all? Yeah, it was like that. One of the few movies of the last 20 years that I considered an instant-classic when it was released, Almost Famous is a love letter to rock n’ roll. In short, I consider it essential viewing for any music lover.

Almost Famous is a semi-autobiographical tale written and directed by Cameron Crowe about his time as a  teenage journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. In real life Crowe toured with bands such as The Allman Brothers, but in the movie, young journalist William Miller goes on the road with fictional band Stillwater. Of course sex, drugs, and debauchery abound as William is taken under the wing of lead guitarist Russell (played to perfection by Billy Crudup), and he struggles to balance his love for the band against his journalistic integrity. Acting as the Obi-wan of rock journalism and life is the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his best roles as rock critic Lester Bangs. He spouts words of truth such as, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” Deep. And let’s not forget the breakout star of this film, which was Kate Hudson. This was the first role I ever remembered seeing Goldie Hawn’s daughter in, and she really killed it as Band Aid Penny Lane. Funny, exciting, and heartbreaking, she really brought the character alive.

My drink this week is not actually a cocktail, but rather, a beer.  Considering this film again, I realized that the characters in it were not really cocktail folk.  These were “sell your groupie to another a band for a six-pack of Heineken” folk.  My true drinking inspiration came midway through the film, as Russell drinks a beer laced with acid.  How fortuitous then that the new “it” beer for craft breweries happens to be acidic sours!  I had the pleasure of tasting some sour beers at Jester King Brewery outside Austin, TX this summer, where I learned that this type of beer is made by adding wild yeast strains and/or fruit to the brew, giving it its tart, sour taste.  No illegal psychotropic drugs required.  When watching Almost Famous, I recommend drinking your favorite Sour Beer (top brands in my opinion are Lindemans, Jester King, and Lost Abbey).

Sour Beer

What I love most about Almost Famous is the profound love that all the characters have for music. As Zooey Deschanel prophesizes early on, the records under the bed will set you free. I have to say, I completely agree. I had many of the same records in my teenage bedroom (even a few of them on vinyl because I was hip even then) and listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” or Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” made me excited to leave home and figure out what else was out there in the world waiting for me. Perhaps you readers have some favorite records that set you free when you heard them. If so, I’d love to know what they are. In the meantime, I’ll be watching Almost Famous with a sour beer, and maybe later going through my albums so I can visit some old friends. Cheers!

Magnolia

Image Credit New Line Cinema 1999

Image Credit New Line Cinema 1999

I’ll admit it- when I first saw Magnolia, I didn’t get it. Specifically the frogs. However, I think that’s what I really like the most about this film now- it leaves me questioning everything, including my own intelligence. I was tempted to watch this recently after the passing of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Really, no retrospective of his work would be complete without seeing at least one Paul Thomas Anderson film. I am singling out Magnolia because it’s a great film to watch when you’re buried inside on a cold wintry day. Dark and stormy weather mixed with a dark and stormy film makes for a hell of a combination.

Magnolia (DVD/Download) tells the stories of several characters in the San Fernando Valley whose lives intersect over the course of a day. At 3 hours long, you may worry that the film drags by, but let me reassure you that every minute of those 3 hours is entirely necessary in order to give each character their due. The actors are all Paul Thomas Anderson regulars, with the notable exception of Tom Cruise sporting a weird samurai hairdo. This is the rare movie where I actually say afterward, “Wow, Tom Cruise can actually act!” He is surprising and amazing in Magnolia, as is the rest of the large cast. As their stories weave back and forth, you realize how interconnected we all are. The movie is about coincidences and fate, and the connections that we make with other people in our lives. The script is superb, and though I still don’t entirely know what the frog scene is about, it does become a sort of glue that binds the stories together.

My drink pairing for Magnolia is an obvious choice. Given the amount of weather references in the film, I have to pair it with a Dark & Stormy. This is a favorite drink of mine that combines simple ingredients into a refreshing cocktail. I like to imagine that Quiz Kid Donnie Smith finally grows up and goes back to that upholstered bar stool and orders up a tall cocktail like this.

Dark & Stormy

2 oz Dark Rum

3 oz Ginger Beer

Lime Wedge for garnish

Pour Rum and Ginger Beer into a tall Collins glass over ice. Garnish with lime wedge.

Dark-&-Stormy

Of course, this cocktail is much more innocuous than the cadre of pills in Julianne Moore’s character’s purse, but it won’t leave you passed out in your car later on (hopefully). The big line in this film that gets said over and over again is “The book says we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” I think that statement holds true for the simple act of watching this film, for even though I’ve seen it before and think I understand it, watching it now makes me consider it in a new light. So if you continue to be buried under winter weather, give this film a chance (along with a Dark & Stormy) and hunker down for a weird, intense, thought-provoking 3 hours. Cheers!