Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Bottle Shock


Review by Rebecca Roth

There is a saying that goes "great wine is like great art", and this little film has both.

Bottle Shock is the true story of Stephen Spurrier (Alan Rickman), owner of a struggling French wine store.  In an attempt to improve business, he makes plans for a controversial competition that involves French wines facing off against the up-and-coming California wines.

Spurrier, though a Brit, is the epitome of a French Wine snob. The film kicks off with his realization of that fact, and subsequently taking action to begin plans for the historic 1973 blind tasting. Spurrier heads to California to check out the wine scene there; though open-minded and ready to taste, he enters with certain expectations, an aura that he absolutely exudes in a chance run in with one of the vineyard owners, Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman).

Jim Barrett and his son Bo (Chris Pine) are typical of the dynamic in late 1970's California: Jim is hardworking and extremely proud, having driven himself into debt with the bank in order to keep his winery (called Chateau Montelena) alive and productive. Meanwhile, Bo is a hippie burn-out, with no ambition in life, and who consistently proves himself to be unreliable and selfish.

About the same time Spurrier shows up, so does a (unexpectedly) female intern named Sam (Rachel Taylor). Upon entering the scene, Sam makes clear her seriousness about wine; unfortunately, from there on she is relegated to the role of "love interest" and the closest she comes to being involved with the winery is a slightly awkward scene where she is washing equipment with a hose while all of the male vineyard workers watch. Sam does an effective job, however, of creating a complicated love triangle between herself, Bo and his best friend, a Mexican vineyard worker named Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez).

Spurrier begins traveling between the wineries, tasting everything he can.  He is shown around by Bo, Sam, and Gustavo, who open his eyes to the new found wine culture of the Napa Valley and Sonoma. Much to his surprise, Spurrier finds the Californian wines to be exceptional and selects many, including that of Chateau Montelena, to bring back to Paris for the competition he has arranged.

The performances in this film are what won me over more than anything (despite the gorgeous wide shots of California wine country); everyone is so genuine you simply have to be drawn in. Rickman is pretentious and snobbish, yet his openness to change and desire to seek out quality wine is what makes him so real. The contrast between Jim and Bo Barrett is likewise a true family power struggle; Jim is worked to the bone, a desperate animal, but too proud to ask for help, and Bo doesn't have a care in the world until Sam and his dad comment on the fact that he's going nowhere.  Chris Pine is definitely not a personal favorite of mine (and he has an awful wig), but he does a believable job of being a carefree hippie. The real winning performance of the film comes from Freddy Rodriguez, his monologues are so passionate and emotional, he is the immigrant underdog you will want more than anything to succeed.

I don't won't to focus on the issues of the film as it really is a very good movie.   The main problem is the fact that the movie is about 30 minutes too long, mainly due to the large amount of "fluff" right in the middle of the film that had nothing to do with the story and should have been left on the cutting room floor.  The other main gripe that I had was the fact that Sam spends the duration of the film sweetly voicing Bo's flaws, yet they end up hooking up just as the film closes, following the standard Hollywood playbook that there to be a romance between the protagonist and the "love interest".  I ask myself: what is indie film for but to go against those needless (and ridiculous) requirements?

Ultimately, like fine wine, there are many layers and flavors to this film, as long as you are willing to step back and open yourself to experience it, you will find something worthwhile in Bottle Shock

4 ½ / 5 stars



Review by Matthew Frendo

It took a long time, but I can finally say that it is truly awesome to have a movie take place where you grew up!  Now, for me, growing up means high school and after, as I moved (or changed schools) like six times before 9th grade, but I went to high school in Napa (where Bottle Shock takes place) and lived in a surrounding area.  So, when a character says "the tires been blown out since Fairfield", I know that it's a 20-25 minute drive and exactly how that drive goes (this may not seem important, but after constantly seeing films that talk about going to, let's say, Manhattan from Brooklyn and never knowing how far that is, this is a least a tad exciting).

So, it would've been a real bummer if this movie had, well, sucked.  But fortunately, it was quite the opposite.  While it wasn't perfect by any means, it was a compelling story, with great performances, and a killer '70's soundtrack.  The story follows a British wine-maker named Spurrier (Alan Rickman) who has a French wine business, and decides to do a blind taste test with wine experts to garner more business.  He hears of wine from California, which he quickly dismisses, but figures it would be good for the contest.  He then goes to California to find wine to use.  He runs into Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), an ex-lawyer who left his firm to try his hand at winemaking.  It's a hard road for Jim, as winemaking is no easy business.  The movie focuses mainly on his troubles with the process, along with the love triangle between his son (Chris Pine), one of his workers (Freddy Rodriguez), and his intern (Rachael Taylor).  The contest comes in the end, which is why I'll end the synopsis here (although, with it being a true story...). 

The cinematography is superb in the film, giving the Napa vineyards a feel that's real yet majestic.  It was great to see supporting performances by Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Bradley Whitford (West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), two of the best TV actors who have not yet been given their due in the world of film.  It's also refreshing to see a real independent movie (instead of a Sony offshoot company who think indie is a genre), as the director got investor money himself and released it through a pure distribution company.  Overall, a good film to see on a relaxing summer day, with maybe some cool Chardonnay to wash it down with.

3 ½ / 5 stars


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