Welcome to A Meal and a Movie! Why is it called that? Because every darn permutation of “Dinner and a Movie” was taken. But then I got to thinking, hey, maybe it’s better this way because then I can talk about lunch. Breakfast. Snacks. Oh yes, definitely snacks. I can make a meal of snacks.
For movies, this is not a review site except in a very general sense. I’m not reviewing new theater releases; I’ll talk about movies on disc or streaming that you can buy or rent and watch in the comfort of your home. Or go mobile and watch the movie on your tablet while you have a picnic!
The meal part will come in as either food that appears in the movie or, much more likely, food that I think “goes” with the film. Some will be cooked from scratch, some will be made via shortcuts, and a lot will be plain ol’ store-bought. A recipe site this is not, although I will include some. Overall I’m all about easy. I’ll also add some history and/or trivia as we go along.
I started doing this at home years ago and boy did our family have a good time. We’d eat the dinner and then watch the movie, although you can do it any way you darn well please — movie then dinner, movie with dinner, just the movie, just the food. Actually I think a leisurely “with” is the most fun, as long as kids and pets don’t make it too hectic.
So for my first offering on A Meal and a Movie, I’m going with the very same combination I started with at home, the multi-Oscar winner Gladiator (2000) and a meal to satisfy the patrician or plebeian in you.
Directed by Ridley Scott, Gladiator was a box office and critical success, sometimes credited with rekindling interest in historical epic films. You’re probably already familiar with the plot, but if not, briefly:
Set in approximately 150 A.D., the film begins with General Maximus (Russell Crowe) leading his army against the tribes of Germania. He’s loyal to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), who loves and trusts Maximus more than he does his own son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Since Commodus is power-hungry not to mention bat**** crazy, you can imagine that this doesn’t bode well for Maximus, to put it mildly.
Most of the movie is Maximus’s fall from grace and subsequent rise as a famous gladiator in Rome’s Coliseum, with the thought of revenge always uppermost in his mind.
Although Gladiator is only fifteen years old, that’s light years when it comes to advances in computer-generated (CG) effects. Some of the CG that was stunning in 2000 looks a bit clunky now. Supporting actor Oliver Reed, who plays slave trader and gladiator trainer Proximo, had the audacity to die during filming so some of his scenes and lines were dubbed or CG’ed in. You have to overlook that stuff.
Also, for your sanity and movie enjoyment, overlook the boatload of goofs that Gladiator contains — continuity, anachronisms, crew or equipment visible, and so forth. One glaring one that I cannot forget, no matter how much I try, is how some of the posters and flyers advertising Coliseum events appear to have been made with a printing press… far more than a thousand years prior to the printing press’s invention. [facepalm] But overall it’s an exciting outing that brought back the “sword-and-sandal” genre.
Interesting trivia: Phoenix’s famous line, the scream of “AM I NOT MERCIFUL?!?” was ad-libbed and really frightened his co-star Connie Nielsen who plays his sister Lucilla. This is a fun line to yell at random times, like when you drop some money in a tip jar.
Now for the food! While I am indeed old, I wasn’t around during the Roman Empire so have to rely on several popular and historical sources for ideas of appropriate food. First of all, even though we’re talking Rome, forget spaghetti or anything like that, since pasta as we know it didn’t appear in Italy until the 13th or 14th century. There’s an unproven legend that Marco Polo introduced it and other noodles from China.
Per Wikipedia, bread was a main food for Romans — wealthier people ate wheat bread and poorer people ate bread made from barley. A variety of olives, vegetables, fruits (both fresh when available, or dried), and nuts were eaten. Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk were considered superior to cow’s milk. While wine was an important beverage, Romans drank their wine mixed with water, and drinking wine undiluted was viewed as a Barbarian custom (oops). Various meats were also eaten, and dessert often contained honey.
Not everything was so simple of course. The favorite dish of the emperor Vitellius was called “The Shield of Minerva,” and was allegedly composed of pike liver, brains of pheasant and peacock, flamingo tongue, and lamprey milt. If you want to try making that, knock yourself out. I’m fresh out of flamingo tongue and suggest a much simpler meal.
- Bread, a flat round loaf of whole wheat or barley. Tear off pieces with your hands.
- Olive oil for dipping. You can buy various flavored kinds for more variety.
- Olives — grocery stores and specialty food stores may have an “olive bar” where you can try different kinds.
- Goat cheese. If you’ve never tried it, don’t be squeamish. It’s not weird and it really does taste great.
- Fruits — grapes (you know you want someone dangling a bunch over your head), other berries in season, dried figs or dates.
- Nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds.
For a beverage, wine’s gotta be #1, but not everyone imbibes so you could substitute white or red non-alcoholic grape juice. If you do go with wine, there is no way you’re going to reproduce an ancient Roman one, so don’t kill yourself trying. Go to the store and get a good Italian wine, either red or white, perhaps a Sangiovese or a Pinot Grigio. DON’T get one of those round-bottomed bottles in a straw basket (called a fiasco… and, no, I don’t know why).
As someone who loves wine but is no expert, the best advice I can give is to find someone who is an expert and who will steer you right. We have a local wine shop called Brix Bottleshop, and I can go in there and say I want a wine from _______ that costs about $X, and they’ll find it. They don’t pressure me to spend more than I can afford. Find a place like that.
For dessert, I keep thinking of something like baklava. Wait, I know that’s Greek! But apparently it’s similar to an ancient Roman dish called, disgustingly, placenta cake. Forget that name and try baklava, which is a heavy pastry made of numerous thin flaky layers of dough, with chopped nuts and lots of honey. You could of course make it yourself, but I tried that once and only once. It was a sticky mess and a TON of work. Easier to buy it pre-made.
This may all seem like a lazy meal. That’s the point. If you don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you can pretend you’re an upper-class Roman with an army of servants. Isn’t that part of the reason we love movies — to pretend we’re someone else, somewhere else?
You could eat all this sitting at a table, but where’s the fun in that? Try reclining on your left side on a couch per the ancient Romans and having everything in arm’s reach while you watch the movie or chat. That’s entertainment.
- Genre: Action, Drama
- Running time: 155 min | 171 min (Extended Edition)
- Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): Rated R for intense, graphic combat
- Aspect ratio: 2.35 : 1
- IMDb link
- Official trailer