Monday, June 1, 2009

A Movie Review: Bottle Shock (2008)

Bottle Shock (2008)

Director - Randall Miller
Runtime - 110 min


Steven Spurrier - Alan Rickman
Jim Barrett - Bill Pullman
Bo Barrett - Chris Pine
Sam - Rachael Taylor
Gustavo Brambila - Freddy Rodríguez
Joe - Eliza Dushku

In 1976, on a wind-swept farm somewhere near Paris, France, a small gathering of French elite wine connoisseurs put their pallets to the test and, when the spittle had hit the bucket, declared by means of a blind taste-test that the chardonnay of Chateau Montelena of the Napa Valley in California of the United States was the finest white wine in the competition. Hear that today and you’ll likely shrug, for even the most casual wine drinker knows that Napa produces some of the world’s finest vintages. However, at the time of the competition Napa was unknown to all but those who lived in Napa, and the French had a strangle-hold of pride and quality on the wine market.

Bottle Shock is a fictionalized tale very loosely based on the events that lead up to that historic wine tasting event, and it is a fun one. Beautiful scenes shot on location throughout the Napa Valley and a quirky soundtrack that somehow works enhance the story and draws us into the characters and their lives.

A wonderful performance is turned in by Alan Rickman (You’ll notice him as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films) as Steven Spurrier, the British ex-patriot living in France and running one of the most renowned schools on wine who comes up with the idea to hold the contest. His droll demeanor and sophisticated acting bring comic relief throughout the film, and by the end you will find yourself remembering and laughing at his expressions as he traverses the California country-side in search of fine wines. In one memorable scene he studies the glow of the wine in the California sun as it is served to him in a jar normally used for holding preserves.

So too does Bill Pullman (Independence Day) do a fine job as the man who gave up his 9-5 job to pursue his dream of opening a vineyard. Chris Pine (Star Trek), Freddy Rodríguez, and Rachael Taylor (Transformers) play the roles of the youthful son and workers on the vineyard, and I only wish their roles were shortened substantially and replaced with more scenes of Rickman and Pullman. Though their presence is needed to further the story, and ultimately it is Bo who delivers the wine for competition, much of what they bring to the screen is a less dance-filled Footloose performance. More than one scene could have been left on the cutting room floor and no one would have known nor cared. Pine is reasonable as the hippie son unsure of his future, and Rodriguez turns in a decent supporting role, but Taylor appears to only be in the film as eye-candy (And if so it works GREAT!)

With that said, and remembering that this film is VERY loosely based on actual events, this is a fun movie with a great pace and some strong roles. Inevitable comparisons to another great wine movie will surely be made, but this is no Sideways and it never pretends to be. That film was a beautiful comedy about friendship, life and wine, whereas Bottle Shock explores the family dynamic and heart it takes to pull off a dream.

**** out of 5

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