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BIG NIGHT ($28) could be the best film ever made about the joys of Italian food. There is even a line in BIG NIGHT that states, "To eat good food is to be close to God." As someone who loves food, Italian food in particular, I am going to wholeheartedly endorse that sentiment.

BIG NIGHT is an obvious labor of love, which comes from the heart of co-writer, co-director and co-star Stanley Tucci. Set in the 1950ís, BIG NIGHT is the story of two Italian brothers who own and operate a small restaurant they have named Paradise. While the food at the Paradise is exquisitely prepared regional Italian cuisine, the restaurant is one the verge of financial ruin. The problem- the American public of the 1950ís simply wasnít ready for anything more exotic than spaghetti and meatballs. The eldest brother and chef, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) is a perfectionist who refuses to pander to the simpler tastes of the public. His younger brother, Secondo (Stanley Tucci) is willing to do anything to keep the restaurant afloat, but canít seem to make his brother see reality.

Down the street from the Paradise is another, highly successful, Italian restaurant owned by Pascal (Ian Holm). Of course, Pascalís food isnít anywhere as good as the culinary masterpieces prepared by Primo at the Paradise. Instead, Pascalís restaurant has become successful by giving the public exactly what they want. At the end of his rope, Secondo turns to Pascal for help. Pascal offers to arrange to have Louie Prima to dine at the Paradise on the following Saturday night. Having a celebrity at the Paradise would generate desperately needed publicity for the small restaurant and entice customers through the door. Secondo places all his eggs in one basket and arranges a final gala at the Paradise that will either make or break the restaurant.

Much of the film is centered on the preparations for the "big night", as well as the revelry that occurs during the actual feast. Tony Shalhoub is a genuine delight as Primo, exuding warmth despite the obsessiveness of his character. Stanley Tucci portrays Secondo with all the wide-eyed enthusiasm of someone caught up in the American dream, despite being on the verge of financial ruin. I can never seem to get enough of Minnie Driver; she is quickly becoming my favorite actress. As Secondoís girlfriend Phyllis, Driver perfectly plays the frustration of a modern woman with an Old World boyfriend who wonít marry her until he makes a success of himself. Ian Holmís larger than life portrayal of Pascal is the perfect counterpoint to the characterís true nature. Isabella Rossellini brings a quiet dignity to the role of Gabriella, a woman who has grown tired of the little games that men continue to play.

Columbia TriStar has wisely decided to offer BIG NIGHT only in a wide screen presentation that is very close the filmís 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Compositionally, BIG NIGHT appears balanced, with very little loss at the extreme edges of the frame. For image quality BIG NIGHT will never be considered a demonstration disc, however this DVD looks as good as the filmís original photography will allow it to look. The cinematography is just a little soft. That, combined with the warm saturated color, gives the film a nostalgic glow. The DVD perfectly conveys the warmth of the filmís intended look, without distorting it in any way. Digital compression artifacts were only detectable if one were to turn their attention away from the film itself.

The Dolby Surround soundtrack occasionally had some nice channel separation across the front, while the rear channels existed only to supply atmosphere to the film. The simplistic interactive menus offer scene and subtitles choices, as well as access to a theatrical trailer. Itís too bad someone couldnít have included the recipes for the dishes prepared in the film, they would have been the perfect DVD specific supplement to this tasty film.


Big Night (1996)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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