Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
It’s nice to find that good things still come in small packages. Cinematically speaking, that usually refers to low-budget independent films that possess charm, talent, and entertainment at a fraction of what the studios spend on catering a comic book action hero movie.
Such is the case with Bottle Shock, a based-on-a-true-story tale about the rise of the now-burgeoning wine industry in California’s Napa Valley. According to the story, this area was ignored as a wine producer to the point that the wineries were on the edge of extinction. When a Parisian wine merchant is inspired by a colleague to have a wine tasting in France pitting French vs. California wines, he visits California and finds that the wines are actually very good, if not exceptional. Even if you’re not familiar with how the story unfolds, you can easily guess, as it’s hard to walk down the aisles of any wine emporium without being intimidated by the sheer number of California vintages available.
In Bottle Shock, the charming British actor Alan Rickman plays the Parisian wine merchant. Even though he came to fame as the uber villain Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard movie, Rickman has, generally, balanced out his bad guy act with a series of smaller films that feature his quirky side. His compadre in this venture is Dennis Farina, a very competent character actor, and former Chicago cop, who is clothed in some of the ugliest suits any one person has been forced to wear. But, hey…it does take place in 1976, so it’s period dress-appropriate. And the farmer and vintner at the center of the story is essayed by Bill Pullman, another fine thespian who, when he gets the right role, can really shine. Here he plays a San Francisco lawyer who has given up his practice to follow his dream. In the process he loses his wife, and is on the verge of losing his farm. He is discouraged and bitter, and his slacker surf bum son is no help.
But things change, as you would expect, and all’s well that end’s well, as someone must have said before. The rest of the cast, who, for the most part, are not well known, all do fine jobs. The writing and direction by Randall Miller, with some TV and low-budget features to his credit, is good enough to raise his budgets, and his salary, the next time he makes a film.
In the movie business, everyone is looking for a “high concept” descriptive, which is a one-line summation of a film that everyone…or most people…will get. In the case of Bottle Shock, it should be…this is “the Breaking Away of wine movies.” It has the same energy and drive, and care for its characters as that Indiana-made film about bicycle racing possesses.
It’s also likely to inspire you to head to the nearest restaurant outside the theatre to try a bottle of wine. Not just the usual brand, but something new and different. And if you’re on the fence about buying a ticket to this movie, it is also well worth taking a chance. Salud!