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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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Peyton Place

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Peyton Place

Image credit: Peyton Place, 1957

I’m a sucker for vintage New England, so naturally this week’s film Peyton Place (DVD/Download) is right up my Episcopalian-and-lobster-roll-alley. Though it would later be turned into a hit TV soap opera, the film adaptation of the Grace Metalious novel is pretty soapy on its own. Teenage sex; adultery; abortion; murder in front of the Christmas tree- pretty scandalous stuff even now, let alone in the 1950s. But what I love about this film (in addition to Lana Turner’s wardrobe) is that it doesn’t feel dated.  Rather, it succeeds in shining a light on social issues we’re still dealing with today.

Set in the sleepy New England town of Peyton Place just before World War II breaks out, the film follows teenage characters as they struggle with the prudish views of their parents. Lana Turner rants about how sex ed shouldn’t be taught in schools, yet she refuses to talk to her own daughter about it at home, thus pushing her away. Cute little Russ Tamblyn plays a Norman Bates-type henpecked boy whose own mother is even worse. Did Hitchcock use Tamblyn’s Norman as inspiration? I have to wonder. The film leaves it to the town doctor and the high school principal to educate the rest of the community on their backwards thinking, and I just want to stand up and cheer anytime these men are onscreen. Finally, someone in this film is using common sense and science to make a compelling argument, societal backlash be damned.

Lana Turner does a brilliant job in her role as a supreme ice queen, causing the men in the town to shy away for fear of “frostbite”. She’s buttoned up, beautiful, and sardonic- a classic film icon if I’ve ever seen one. While watching Peyton Place, celebrate Ms. Turner with an Ice Queen cocktail.

Ice Queen

Cucumber slice

1 1/2 oz light rum

¾ oz lime juice

½ oz simple syrup

1 tsp crème de menthe

2 oz prosecco

Lime twist

Muddle cucumber at the bottom of a cocktail shaker with the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Add ice and crème de menthe. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with prosecco, and garnish with a lime twist.

Ice Queen

By the end of the film, I’m still marveling to myself that the battles being waged onscreen are still the same ones we’re fighting today. Should sex ed be taught in schools? Should abortion be legal in cases of rape and incest (and any other damn time it’s a bad situation)? Are churches doing a disservice by preaching abstinence-only? The film comes down pretty hard on the left (as do I) but I find it depressing to realize that after 70 years we’re STILL fighting about these things. All I can say is, pass the rum. Cheers!