Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bottle Shock

Bottle Shock (Randall Miller, 2008) Miller has been making cheap, exploitation comedies (Class Act, Houseguest, The Sixth Man) for awhile now—alternating with some TV-directing work on shows with more on their mind ("Northern Exposure," "thirtysomething,") but Bottle Shock was made with his own money and he distributed it himself.  One can imagine why: it's an intelligent, slightly loopy movie about pursuing your dreams despite being told (by the entire world) that you can't achieve them.  It's also about wine—  A sort of Rocky of the vineyards.  But, it's also a fictionalized version of true events.

The occurence was a tectonic shift in the wine industry, which was monopolized in terms of quality by the French vintners of the Bordeaux region.  In 1976, a wine connosuier and merchant Steven Spurrier, conducted a blind taste test between various products wine-producing areas.  It was assumed that the French would, of course, come out on top, but when labels were revealed, the clear winner of the competition were upstarts, from, frighteningly, California.  The wine-world was shocked (aghast!) that the center of the world vineyards became the neighborhood of Gallo (now owned, by the way, by Francis Coppola).

The facts are loose, and Spurrier has gone on record saying that he is less than thrilled with his portrayal—with sly, and, dare we say, dry alacrity—by Alan Rickman (personally, I'd be honored, but then I guess my taste is questionable) and with how the film tinkers with them, but Miller managed to make an okay film about grapes, waiting, sugar-chemistry, waiting, snobbery, waiting, and...obsession.

The main subject of the film (which might have spit in Spurrier's chardonnay) is Jim Barrett (played by Bill Pullman), a financial guru who has tired of dollars and sense to concentrate on nose and bouquet.  For the youth market, there are the required diversions of the chances-taking son (played by Chris Pine), who is not sure of following in his father's grape-stomping foot-steps, but is sure of making time with the UC Davis student (Rachael Taylor) who's decided to Summer working the fields...and playing them.  While wine-inspired lust simmers in the background, Pine's restless son manages to smuggle Dad's wine into the competition, a move the father staunchly disapproves of, despite being leveraged to the cork.

It's amiable, pleasant, with no harsh after-taste (despite the squabbling that was going on in the background of the film's making among the subjects and film-makers), and will more than satisfy any film-watcher's desire to see sun-dappled vineyards in long-shot.

Grin and Barrett

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