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In 1976, Steven Spurrier, a sommelier in Paris, comes to the Napa Valley to take the best he can find to Paris for a blind taste test against French wine. He meets Jim Barrett, whose Chateau Montelena is mortgaged to the hilt as Jim perfects his chardonnay. There's strain in Jim's relations with his hippie son Bo and his foreman Gustavo, a Mexican farmworker's son secretly making his own wine. Plus, there's Sam, a UC Davis graduate student and free spirit, mutually attracted to both Gustavo and Bo. As Spurrier organizes the "Judgment of Paris," Jim doesn't want to participate while Bo knows it's their only chance. Barrett's chardonnay has buttery notes and a Smithsonian finish. Written by
The Russian Ural sidecar motorcycle ridden by Gustavo was not available in US spec trim as shown in the movie until 1996. See more »
[voice-over during a vineyard pan]
It wasn't always like this. Before Paris, people didn't drink our wine. I mean, my friends did. But you could hardly consider their palates discerning...
Hell, we were farmers... sort of...
[pan to empty bottles of Montelena label and several early twenties/late teens smoking hookah]
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Bottle Shock Bottom Line: "Rocky" for wine aficionados. By Stephen Farber Jan 29, 2008
Sundance Film Festival
PARK CITY -- When a film opens with the title, "Based on a true story," one wonders if the filmmakers are trying to bolster a flimsy premise with claims of authenticity.
But "Bottle Shock," which had its world premiere at Sundance, enshrines an irresistible story that happens to be (mainly) true. It takes place in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, and in these cynical times, it is nice to be reminded of an American victory that is actually worth celebrating. This might not have been a momentous world achievement, but it was a gratifying victory all the same.
The contest takes place in the world of wine, in a time when California wines competed for the first time in a prestigious competition in France. One of the competitors was Château Montelena, a vineyard owned by Jim Barrett, who dropped out of the corporate rat race to pursue his dream of cultivating grapes. Jim is just one of the engaging characters in this tale of American hayseeds taking on French connoisseurs. Because of the wine backdrop, some will compare the film to "Sideways," but the comparisons are not really fair. This is a different kind of movie, a classic underdog tale with lots of humor and heart. With the right handling, it could be a hit on the specialty circuit.
The film begins by introducing an intriguing ensemble. In the Napa Valley, Jim (Bill Pullman) is locked in constant battle with his slacker son, Bo (Chris Pine), who works for him at the vineyard. Another worker, Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), the son of a Mexican field hand, hopes to launch his own label. Both of the men are infatuated with Sam (Rachael Taylor), a new arrival in town. Meanwhile, in Paris, Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) hopes to revive his failing wine business by sponsoring a competition, and a friend encourages him to visit California to add a new gimmick to the contest.
The film is very leisurely in establishing all these characters -- a mite too leisurely. The first half would benefit from tighter editing. Another problem is that the characters -- the tyrannical father and the rebellious son, the snooty European wine connoisseur -- are a bit stock, and the personal stories are not as well developed as they might be. But the film keeps building in intensity, and the payoff sizzles.
As he showed in "Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School," director Randall Miller has real affection for actors, and he brings out the best in performers who haven't always had an opportunity to shine. (Miller wrote and produced both films with his wife, Jody Savin.) Pullman has his best role in years, and he captures the fury as well as the passion of a man in thrall to a dream on the verge of collapse. Pine has enormous charm, and Rodriguez confirms the promise he showed on HBO's "Six Feet Under." Rickman also has one of his juiciest roles in recent years, and he's able to satirize British haughtiness without falling into caricature. Watch his reactions as he samples California cuisine -- first a vat of Kentucky Fried Chicken and then a glob of guacamole -- and you'll savor the mastery of a truly subtle actor. Two beautiful young actresses -- Taylor and Eliza Dushku as a ballsy bartender -- give equally winning performances.
Once the film gets past the exposition, it brings off a number of delectable scenes. A high point comes when Rickman and Pine inveigle a bunch of airline passengers to transport California wine in their carry-on bags. And the climactic competition, where the scrappy American interloper has to stand up against generations of French tradition, is as rousing as any finale you'll see this year. Cinematographer Michael J. Ozier magnificently captures the Napa countryside. This intelligent, affectionate, beautifully acted movie gives crowd-pleasers a good name.
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