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Bottle Shock (2008)
The Hollywood Reporter loves BOTTLE SHOCK!!
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.
For all of those who haven't read the Rex Reed review in the NY Observer let me say this is one of the best films of the year...
Here's the full review:
by Rex Reed
At the movies, there isn't much to write home about, but compared with the violence and filth of today's Hollywood action epics and the creeping deadliness of all the independent productions that look like they were made for $100, a sweet, unpretentious and heartfelt little movie like Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School begins to look like a wayward valentine from the dead-letter office, lost in transit and delivered late.
A despondent and recently widowed bread baker named Frank Keane (played by the sometimes unintelligible Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, thankfully exchanging his thick brogue for a more decipherable Irish accent) is driving down a California highway when he finds a man seriously injured in a car accident. Although the injured driver (John Goodman) is near death, 911 tells Frank to keep him conscious and talking until the paramedics arrive. An extraordinary story unfolds when the stranger reveals that he's on his way to fulfill a promise made 40 years earlier to meet his childhood sweetheart at the Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School, where they first met as kidsand that he's broken out of prison to do it.
Frank keeps his appointment but never dreams that when he enters the old social club in Pasadena, his own fate will take a remarkable right turn. The original Marilyn passed on in 1972. But her dance classes are still conducted by her grown daughter (Mary Steenburgen), and they have such an unexpectedly liberating effect on the shy, inarticulate Frank that even the miserable members of his group-therapy sessions for grieving widowed husbands move to the ballroom, and the Thursday-night lindy hops and tangos become metaphors for exorcising demons and opening up new doors to hope and affirmation.
Directed by Randall Miller and co-written by Mr. Miller and Jody Savin, the movie is similar in theme to Shall We Dance? But unlike that film, it doesn't narrow its focus to what happens inside the classroom. The story is complex, involving a variety of characters at different ages in their lives, so the structure understandably has a hopscotch effect, with three different looks: The past has a historic sepia-tone quality, the California-freeway scenes between Mr. Carlyle and the dying Mr. Goodman have the bleached and antiseptic hue of an ambulance interior, and the ballroom scenes that grow from awkwardness to passion are rich and colorful.
The performances are whimsical and touching, with solid and human portraits etched by Marisa Tomei, Donnie Wahlberg, Sean Astin, Sonia Braga, David Paymer, Adam Arkin, Camryn Manheim and Danny DeVito, among others. Today's movies are so bad that when respected performers with established reputations find a script they believe in, they work for next to nothing. By the end of this film, every life has been changed or impacted in positive ways through the group experience of ballroom dancing. The point of the film is that anything is possible when you open your heart to new experiences the feel-good pleasures in a movie with this much positive thinking are undeniable.