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Big Night

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Big Night

Image credit: Big Night, 1996

Word of advice- DO NOT come hungry to this film. You will end up so ravenous that you might pull a Chaplin and eat your own shoe. Forget Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub; the real star of Big Night (DVD/Download) is the food. What’s a timpano you ask? An Italian kitchen sink of greatness that I want to swim in. If you eschew carbs, just walk away right now. You have no place in this film universe.

This mid-90’s indie hit about two Italian brothers trying to save their New Jersey restaurant largely passed me by upon its release.  But now, as I begin the long trudge through middle age, I’m in the sweet spot of food appreciation. I’ve had to prepare my own risotto (and yes, it takes a LONG f*cking time- deal with it), I’ve grown sad-looking basil, and I’ve even been to Rome to see what real Italian cuisine is all about. As the movie says, “To eat good food is to be close to God”.  I’d like to say the same about cocktails, but sadly, they don’t nourish me like a great bowl of Spaghetti Carbonara.

If you’re looking for a good party film, you’ve found it. Big Night has copious amounts of booze, ladies in 50’s cocktail dresses, and a top-notch soundtrack. Louis Prima never actually makes it to the dinner, but thankfully, his music does. While watching Big Night, have a Cocchi Americano and Soda, and don’t worry about the time- the best parties go all night.

Cocchi Americano and Soda

¾ oz Cocchi Americano

5 oz Club Soda

6-7 Red Grapes

In the bottom of a glass, crush grapes, then fill with ice. Add Cocchi Americano and Club Soda, then gently pour back and forth into another glass until thoroughly mixed. Garnish with a few more grapes.

Cocchi

When food is truly great, it creates a memory. I can tell you where and when I had the best risotto of my life (Alla Rampa, Rome, April ‘09), a 10-Euro Cuban feast that just kept coming and coming (unnamed hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Valencia, Summer ‘03), and biscuits so flaky and buttery I nearly wept (Willa Jean, New Orleans ‘14). Sadly, many of the memorable restaurants in my life are long gone, but I’ll never forget the food. Those meals stay with me, like wonderful films I’ve seen a thousand times. When it comes to food, cinema, and celebrations, don’t be afraid to indulge. Cheers!

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Cinema Paradiso

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Image credit: Cinema Paradiso, 1988

Image credit: Cinema Paradiso, 1988

It’s no secret that I love movies. Why else would I write this blog, week after week? It’s not just for the drinks- I swear. What I love most of all are movies about movies. This brings me to the Italian component of Foreign Cinema Month, Cinema Paradiso (DVD). I’m not ashamed to admit that this schmaltzy, idealistic movie about the power of cinema tugs at my heartstrings every time, turning me into a weeping mess on the sofa. If you’re not affected even a little bit by the final montage, well then, I can’t help you.

Cinema Paradiso is at its core a love story between a boy and the art of cinema. Cute little Salvatore (`Toto’) pesters Alfredo (the projectionist at his local small-town cinema) into letting him help out in the projection room. Alfredo becomes a father figure, teaching Toto life lessons through movies, and encouraging him to follow his dreams of becoming a filmmaker. There’s a tepid love story that weaves itself through Toto’s adolescent years, but it can’t compare to the love stories we see on the screen of the tiny Italian movie theater. The film touches on religious censorship within Italian cinema, thus setting up the big finale. I feel like the Italians are the only ones who could have done this story justice, and their beautiful language only adds to the romance of the film as a whole.

Because this movie is a celebration of cinema, I think it deserves a prosecco toast. Pair it with the Italian aperitif Aperol, and you’ve got yourself a pretty, sparkly beverage evoking the Italian sunset. While watching Cinema Paradiso, I recommend drinking an Aperol Spritz.

Aperol Spritz

3 oz Prosecco

2 oz Aperol

1 oz club soda

Orange twist (optional)

Pour Aperol into a chilled flute or wine glass, and top with prosecco and club soda.  Garnish with an orange twist if desired. Toast to il cinema italiano!

aperol spritz

There have been a handful of other films about cinephiles (The Dreamers, Hugo, etc.) but Cinema Paradiso will always be my favorite. I first saw it as a teenager in a small town in Pennsylvania, and at the time it made me feel a little less alone. Like maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t crazy for wanting to barricade myself in my room with a stack of VHS tapes from Blockbuster. Toto ended up alright, anyway.  In many ways this blog, and the wonderful comments it receives, does the same thing for me as an adult. Here’s to Italy, and amore. Cin Cin!