Magical Movies Tour: The Lion King

My brother Mike and I have this weird game we play, where we try to explain the arc of any artist’s (or in the case of Disney Animation, a large group of artists) work into the same frame as Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen is our monomyth, our artist hero with a thousand faces, and the thing is, his career does fit a good arc for most.

So, if we’re talking Springsteen, Oliver And Company is Greetings From Asbury Park, the first gasp of breath, the promise of something beautiful and special. The Little Mermaid is The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, the formula is there for the first time, the people who are paying attention know that there is something special here, but it isn’t getting the attention it deserves yet, Beauty And The Beast is Born To Run, the breakthrough to the mainstream, something beautiful, unique, special and once in a lifetime. Aladdin is Darkness On The Edge Of Town something different and yet of a piece, and The Lion King is The River, a monumental and untouchable piece of pop art that stands on it’s own beyond what came before. The Rescuers: Down Under is The Promise, the weird not an album of songs Bruce recorded in this time but the record company wouldn’t let him put out that are all really good. And after that, things went downhill for a little bit and picked up again in a decade. (Pocahontas to Meet The Robinsons is Nebraska to Lucky Town, The Princess And The Frog is The Rising. We’ve put a LOT of thought into this.)

I love The Lion King, I love the movie, I love the Broadway musical and I never got around to the new version, but I’m sure I’ll love that too whenever I watch it. I actually burst into tears during the opening on this viewing, which was new. (I hadn’t even been drinking much, I was on my first glass of wine) There’s also a lot of affection for the Elton John songs, and again that fabulous voice cast. (Jeremy Irons! Nathan Lane! Whoopi Goldberg! Matthew Broderick! James Earl Jones! Moira Kelly, although to be fair, when Nala is scolding Simba I can now only hear, “I raised you to be a better man than this Luke!”) And the English major in me loves all the Shakespeare. Sure, it has the bones of Hamlet, but Simba himself has much more in common with Prince Hal of the Henry cycle than the Melancholy Dane, which makes for a much more triumphant story.

I love The Lion King so much that instead of pressing on the night that I watched it (which was the same day I watched Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin) I called out to Alexa to play the Broadway cast album. (Part of why I didn’t rush out to the remake was because they’d gone for new songs instead of giving me Beyonce and Donald Glover versions of “Shadowland” and “Endless Night” or just bypassing it entirely with a  John Oliver version  of “The Morning Report”)

Next year we start to climb down the mountain of great to the just good with Pocahontas.

 

Reenie’s I’m Drunk In My House Disco Fries and Chocolate Milkshake

If you’re anything like me, social distancing has lead to a couple of nights where you drank too much and you had to throw together drunk food because the places you get it from are closed. Hence, I had to teach myself my favorite late night diner food:

DISCO FRIES

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Disco Fries are on any half decent tri-state area diner menu. They are the Jersey approximation of Poutine, French Fries, drenched in gravy and topped with mozzarella cheese. (Proper poutine is steak fries and cheese curds)

I started eating Disco Fries before I even started drinking when I was 15. (I didn’t really start party drinking beyond a snuck beer with my cousins until I was 17).

ANYWAY it wasn’t until alcohol that I learned how good they are with a chocolate milkshake, hence this relationship.

Fries

I don’t make my own french fries because I’m not insane, also this recipe was meant for when I’m drunk alone in my house, so frying is a no-no. I keep frozen fries in my freezer AT ALL TIMES.

I toss them in oil (Olive or Vegetable, whatever you’ve got around) and black pepper and kosher salt. Then I stick them in a toaster oven for 45 minutes. About 1 table spoon of oil and two shakes of salt per cup of fries will do you.

Cheese

Much like the fries, I have store brand shredded mozzarella in my freezer at all times (also taco cheese). Use as much as you’d like for this recipe, I use about a quarter cup. 

Gravy

The real key. 

Do you keep stock or broth in your pantry? If you don’t this whole recipe will do you no good. I keep beef stock, chicken broth and veggie broth around all the time. If you don’t, and you do keep bouillon around you can take another few minutes to MAKE some broth. The point is, you need about 2/3 a cup of stock or broth, and then 1.5 Tablespoons of flour.

Bring the stock or broth to a boil, then add the flour and whisk until it thickens.

Combine

Once the fries are brown, transfer them to an oven safe bowl. Pour the gravy over the fries and then add the cheese on top. Set the toaster oven to broil, and then stick the bowl in for 5 minutes. 

Chocolate Shake

Do you not know how to make a shake? Two scoops of ice cream, a quarter cup of whatever milk, into a blender and blend until smooth. If you don’t have a chocolate based ice cream, add either syrup or cocoa powder and you get chocolate. Or do whatever flavor you want. I’m not your mom.

Story

There’s no specific story here. If I’m out with friends and we hit a diner, this is what I order. I got drunk at home and am feeling sad and hungry a couple of times so I figured out how to make it. If you want to REALLY replicate the experience you require an older Greek man winking at you as you order and at least one friend who is belligerently drunk and arguing with you about something pointless. (Or if you’re alone in your house, just put Legends of Tomorrow on, it mirrors that dynamic. It is the diner food of Superhero TV) (Also I might sometimes be that friend. I will neither confirm nor deny)

Happy Fourth of July everyone. Our founders set some lofty principles for us to live up to that they themselves did not even live up to. Let’s do better and get closer. Sign a petition, join a protest, donate to an anti racist charity today! 

First Test

Two Things:
The idea of “The Study” training room at Pantona, which I finally show here is one of my earliest ideas from this world.

And, Annalise kicking Tristan’s ass was originally written from her perspective but I thought it fit better here. Enjoy!

The Marina Chronicle

“Athena,” Tristan said, shaking me awake. “Athena,” I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. “Come on, we have work to do.”

“No,” I said, “we just rode for seven days straight, and we know the manor is safe and I’m very sleepy.” He laughed and tugged on my foot.

“Hey,” he said, “I’m sorry about last night.” I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “It’s not your fault.”

“No, it isn’t,” I said. “You were never involved in the resistance leadership because you never asked to be Tristan, I didn’t block you out and neither did Martin.” He nodded and sat down.

“I know that,” he said, “I just, it was always easy between you two and it isn’t between me and him all the time.” She smiled. “So you know that they moved Marina from the capital too?”

“I do know that,” I said. “Are you relieved?”…

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Magical Movies Tour: Aladdin

Aladdin is almost as good as it’s predecessor, and has a few things really pushing for it to be better, but it doesn’t quite cohere in the same way. Likely this is because of the lack of Howard Ashman’s guiding hand. He worked on it early but his AIDS diagnosis and the progression of the disease stopped him from taking the real hand he wanted in it. (Aladdin was his dream project)

It’s still very good. The animation is lovely, the songs are great and frankly, as much as I love the balanced ensemble cast of Beauty And The Beast, the shining beacon of Robin Williams as The Genie is very, very hard to resist.

It’s an exceptional performance, a magic never again replicated by Disney Animation. (Danny DeVito in Hercules and Eddie Murphy in Mulan are the only ones even playing the same game and they’re not in the same league.) The way the animation is tailored to William’s outsized performance style, and ability to touch your heart is exceptional work, and the performance it’s self introduced an entire generation to this master performer and what he did.

It also has what I rank as the number two best Act II duet ever written in “A Whole New World.” (The number one is another Ashman And Menken classic, a little ditty called, “Suddenly Seymour.”) There’s something magical about the song, your typical Disney love song being about the thrill of the first date but “A Whole New World” is about the second date, about that feeling that you’ve gotten past the pleasantries, and something magical is about to happen.

I found myself more entranced than I thought I would be watching it again. It’s the one from this era I go back to the least. (It’s Mike’s favorite, so we watched it a lot as kids. Little Mermaid was mine and Oliver was Mary’s. It might be the only time I was more normal than my siblings) But I was absolutely thrilled to be watching it again.

I want to talk a little about Jasmine. The first Disney Princess Of Color is a more interesting character than I think people give her credit for. All of the previous princesses were beautiful but none of them seem conscious of that beauty’s power like Jasmine (actually none since are either.) Jasmine knows who she is, as a princess and a beautiful woman she has certain privileges and she uses them. She’s imperious and insistent on her due, she uses Aladdin (while he’s posing as Ali)’s & Jaffar’s lust against them. She’s actually pretty fascinating. There’s something a little problematic about the fact that she’s the first non white female lead in a Disney film and half her character is using her sexuality but that doesn’t make it less interesting in a vacuum.

Next week we feel the love for The Lion King. 

The Series Series: Throne Of Glass By Sarah J. Maas

You know how like, when you’re at a house party and it’s late and someone says “let’s order pizza!” and you say, “YEAH!” And then you’re psyched because you’re going to get pizza but then they ordered Dominos, and you eat a slice and think, “Dominos is better than I remembered,” because you’ve really been craving pizza, but then you get a second slice and remember that Dominos is a pale imitation of pizza?

That’s sort of what happened with me while I was reading Throne Of Glass. 

I miss Westeros so much you guys, that I was overlooking the uh, less than great-ness, of parts of this series, because it shares some, well, stuff in common with A Song Of Ice And Fire and Game Of Thrones.

Namely, an exiled fire queen with a prophecy on her head and a tendency to burn her enemies.

That said, there’s a lot to like about Throne Of Glass on it’s own and I did like it. Let’s dig in.

The Books

Throne Of Glass

Crown Of Midnight

Heir Of Fire

Queen Of Shadows

Empire Of Storms

Tower Of Dawn

Kingdom Of Ash

The Author

Sarah J. Maas began writing Throne Of Glass as a teenager on Fictionpress before the series was picked up to be published conventionally, which is pretty damn cool. She was inspired by epic fantasy and apparently by Disney princesses which means I bet we’d get along pretty well. (Hey Sarah! Call me!) Since Throne Of Glass she’s written two more series, which I haven’t decided if I have the bandwith to pick up.

Series Structure

Seven books which tell the story of assassin Celaena Sardothien, who is really Queen Aelin Galythenius and her quest to regain her throne and destroy a great evil that is threatening her world. What I thought was most interesting about this series is the way it develops. It clearly started in a world where Harry Potter and The Hunger Games ruled in genre stories. There’s an oddly biased love triangle, a rigged contest, a magical castle with mysteries to solve, but by book three, the wind had changed in what fantasy held sway, and suddenly, a fire queen, sexy sex, beheadings galore and more characters you could really keep track of if you have a normal person brain ruled the day, and the series moved in a completely different direction.

It’s frankly, completely fascinating to behold the shift, and Maas pulls it off for the most part.

Themes

Legacy, I guess? Also letting go of the past to build the future. There’s a lot of both of those things, which are fun themes to explore. There’s also some shades of choosing light and life rather than giving into despair, but that’s pretty boilerplate for this sort of thing.

Favorite Book

My god, I loved Heir Of Fire, which shows Celaena/Aelin off in a Faerie realm with the Male who would become her mate, Rowan, (it is complicated) while her dueling would be lovers from the first two books, Prince Dorian and Captain Chaol Westfall realize they are in over their heads in their homeland, and that something is definitely up with Dorian’s father. It has a third act twist that gut punched me in a way I haven’t felt since The Red Wedding (though it is not as good, but it’s as brutal and out of nowhere)

Least Favorite Book

I do not like Throne Of Glass, which means, if it weren’t for this project of finishing what I start, I probably would not have continued. I’m glad that I did, because the series is pretty rewarding if a bit much in places. Maas’s sex writing in particular is very repetitive. At one point she’s got Dorian fucking a witch with ACTUAL IRON where humans have Keratin and the most she can do is put her on top? Come on lady! Show some creativity.

Favorite Character

Manon Blackbeak is a 500 year old witch of two royal lines who gets Spiked like YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE (To “Spike” a character is to have them begin as a very fun secondary antagonist and eventually become the best of the good guys and the problematic lover of one of the heroes. Origin – Buffy The Vampire Slayer) She’s also a military genius, and executes two of my favorite tropes ever, a character who rejected connection learning that love is not weakness, and calling the cavalry when all seems lost.

Also, she just rules.

Reread Possibilities

I really enjoyed the series, but part of what I enjoyed were the twists and turns and “WTF?” moments. I don’t think it would hold up on a reread, and frankly, it’s too long to reread without love, which, I liked and admired it a lot, but I didn’t love it.

Next up will be The Great Libary series by Rachel Caine, although it might be a bit though because there’s a scene in Kingdom Of Ash where Aelin is falling through multiple world that made my heart call out for yet another world.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and The Gunslinger followed…”

I half expected her to have to have a conversation with That Fucking Turtle. 

Magical Movies Tour: Beauty And The Beast

As much as I personally prefer The Little Mermaid (and it is quite a bit.) there’s just no way to deny that Beauty And The Beast is an outright masterpiece of a film, and should be on those lists of “perfect movies” and yet it somehow never makes it.

Beauty And The Beast is flawless, the stunning animation, the pitch perfect voice performances, the simple and yet emotionally resonant love story, those songs. My God, those wonderful, wonderful Ashman and Menken songs, “Be Our Guest,” “Belle,” “Something There,” “Gaston,” “The Mob Song,” and of course the title track, performed with heartfelt timelesss musical theater precision by Angela Lansbury and then with deeply of it’s moment pop gusto by Celine Dion and Peabo Bearnson.

I have a lot of opinions about this movie and the many pop culture conversations that have sprung up around it, and, thankfully, the conversation has turned from the “Belle has Stockholm Syndrome” narrative that dominated a few years ago. (Nope. It’s just that your high school English teachers failed you and you don’t know how to parse a pretty straightforward narrative about growth and forgiveness without taking everything so fucking literally.) But it’s difficult to somehow say that this movie is widely and universally acclaimed and yet still somehow, underrated?

It is so good though, so beautiful and special that it is somehow, universally loved and acclaimed and yet somehow underrated. Watch it again, any time you get a chance and see something you hadn’t seen before, because there’s always something.

Next week, none of us have ever had a friend like Aladdin. 

 

Viscount Aaron

Y’all I’m so excited to start Aaron and Athena’s love story.

And it mostly starts with her thinking he’s an arrogant moron.

The Marina Chronicle

From just about the moment he strode in, all confidence and that clear smile, I did not like Viscount Aaron of Pantona.

“Did my mother leave you two on your own?” He asked. “That isn’t like her.”

“She was checking on The Princess,” I said. “I’m sorry your Grace.”

“Aaron,” he said. I frowned. “I’m glad you’ve come, it’s gotten very dull around here.” I swallowed.

“We’re here to protect the Princess,” Tristan said, “not for a visit.”

“Oh and she’s in so much danger here,” The Viscount retorted. “I’m not trying to undermine your mission, Sir Tristan, but I have a feeling however long you’re staying will feel more like a visit.”

“I doubt that,” I said sharply. He looked at me and smiled curiously. “We’ll have to see what she knows. Surely she doesn’t expect to just stroll into Dovetail and sit on the throne?”

“She doesn’t stroll…

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Reenie & Meg’s Shore House Improvised Margaritas

Yet another Fangirl Recipe!

This one is very straighforward. I mentioned that while I was stuck at home in quarantine I decide to teach myself to make cocktails and that I’m particularly proud of my margaritas.

Well, here’s a variation on that, story to follow the recipe

This was not the ones Meg and I Drank. This was me recreating the drink at home on Tuesday

Serves 2

2 Shots Gold Tequila
4 Limes
1 Shot Simple Syrup
1 Clementine
Ice

Add Ice to a cocktail shaker. (If you don’t have one, I’ve found travel coffee cups work in a pinch)

Add all ingredients to shaker and shake until chilled.

Strain into glasses over ice

Enjoy cirtusy sunshiney goodness!

Storytime!

So, this Sunday, I was at my family’s shore house. (Previously my grandmother’s but when she passed this winter, well, you know, it’s the family’s now) We were celebrating father’s day so in addition to my parents, my brother Mike and his girlfriend Meg and my sister Mary and my brother in law Joe were there.

As we were leaving the beach I told Meg that I’d make margaritas. I hadn’t made them in a while and they’re her favorite, plus it was 85 degrees out and we’d spent all day at the beach. That is PRIME margarita drinking conditions.

After we got back to the house and showered and got appetizers out, I went to work. I juiced 4 limes, I pulled out the tequila I had purposely asked my parents to bring for these margaritas. And then I sighed.

“There’s no triple sec!” I explained. “So I guess these are just going to be tequila and lime.”

Quick with improvised solutions, Mike suggested we use the electric tea kettle to make a quick simple syrup so we did that, and I knew that would solve part of the problem. I asked if we had any orange juice and got a sad head shake, but Mom, in her infinite wisdom said, “We have clementines!”

So I juiced a clementine, why the hell not.

I strained them into wine glasses. My parents and aunts and uncles are not cocktail people, so I can’t blame them for not having the proper glassware here. Except for my dad who drinks gin martinis (SO MANY MARTINI GLASSES) they mostly just drink spirits either on the rocks or with soda. Or just drink wine and beer.

Mostly the second one.

Anyway, I brought them back out onto the patio and explained to Meg what I’d done. I’m not a good culinary improviser. I learned cooking from baking, where if you deviate it winds up tasting terrible. This does not always work in regular cooking and ESPECIALLY in mixology, there are lots of chances to fix something, ways to get around a missing ingredient. Anyway, we cheers’d and took sips.

I am extremely proud of this concoction. It’s a little more light and tart than a traditional margarita, the sweetness is nicely balanced, and you don’t get the burn of the tequila, which is the main danger of an improvised tequila drink.

Happy Summer Y’all!

Magical Movies Tour: The Rescuers Down Under

There was a window of years where American Pop Culture was really into Australia. I was quite young for this but I still remember it reasonably clearly. Nerf Boomerangs abounded and The Rescuers Down Under came out. (Oddly, in my mind this movie and Fievel Goes West are linked. I looked it up and they didn’t come out near each other so I think it’s just the way time works when you’re little.) I don’t know if it was because of Crocodile Dundee or because we were all smitten with that Mel Gibson fella (boy, do we regret that one now) but we were super into Aussie crap in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Which brings me to The Rescuers Down Under, the last Disney animated flick to not be a super mega hit for about 10 years. It’s a charming little tale, and if like me you’re enamored of Bernard and Bianca, then it’s a straight hit. I don’t like it quite as much as The Rescuers because it’s technical marvels and huge natural scope are less charming than the original. Also Cody, a little boy kidnapped because he caught poacher in the act is nowhere near as endearing or well drawn a character as Penny. (He’s also a good deal less pathetic. Just a dead dad, his mom’s waiting at home for him.) Also I can’t figure out why he’s American? What the hell is an American kid doing running around the Outback?

There’s some great details here, the restaurant for critters in a chandelier in New York, the collection of animals that Cody’s befriended. (I assume the rules of this universe dictate that children can talk to animals and it’s just something we all forget as we grow up?) Bernand constantly trying to propose but Bianca getting sidetracked, an evil Geela Monster named Joanna, this is all good stuff. It’s just not quite as good as the stuff in The Rescuers.

Next week it’s onto the undisputed crown jewel of this era in Disney Animation, Beauty And The Beast. 

Magical Movies Tour: The Little Mermaid

God, I love The Little Mermaid. I love it so much. I love the music and the story and the characters and the animation and every inch of every frame. I wish I could separate this love from any critical appraisal of it, but for all that it’s hard for me to do that, it’s also easy to say the The Little Mermaid is also an incredible film.

It’s a wonderful musical, with the gold standard of “I Want” songs and a handful of kick ass group numbers, and a lead who’s overflowing with agency and personality. (Spare me your “Ariel gives up her voice for a boy” takes. Love is not weakness, and questing for it in a fairy tale is not a failure of feminism) Even silent, Ariel exudes warmth, fun and delight. Her discovery of the human world, exploring the market with Eric, dancing with him, learning to drive a coach, is probably my favorite sequence in Disney Animation, or was before this project. (I’d say Wort and Merlin as fish and Lady and Tramp looking over the city have supplanted it.)

I count The Little Mermaid as one of the defining influences on my taste and writing, (the other two are Les Mis and Dawson’s Creek) which is why I named my sailor prince after Eric, have “scored” many love scenes to “Kiss The Girl,” (read any of my slow quiet lead ups to a kiss, it will usually fit the rhythm) and love few things more than a couple who rescues one another.

Watching it this time (Again, about a month into quarantine,) it felt like wrapping myself up in a warm blanket and being safe. It’s the best, I love it very much.

Next week is The Rescuers Down Under which I have only a few sketchy memories of, and am very much looking forward to watching again, since I loved the first movie so much.