i finally had a chance to see "bottle shock" on saturday night. interestingly, it wasn't playing in westchester, so pat and i had to drive over to greenwich to catch it! it was pat's second film in as many nights. on friday she finally had a chance to see "man on wire," and then stayed for a question and answer session with co-producer, maureen ryan, after the show. if you haven't seen "man on wire" yet, put it on your list of films to see!
getting back to "bottle shock," when i first read about this film and it's wine theme, i was keen to see it. but after i read an initial negative review, my interest in seeing it took a back seat to some other films. what a mistake it was to put off seeing it because of a misguided reviewer inaccurate comment that the film was more about the love triangle among the cellar rats at the montelena vineyard than it was about the actual wine competition at the heart of the story.
the opening scene is practically stolen by dennis farina as a chicago expatriate with the next door travel agency, tasting wine with alan rickman in his modestly named wine shop "the academy of wine!" from that first scene, straight through rickman's adventures in napa valley and then back to france for the actual competition, the film completely engages the audience in rickman's single-minded plan to stage this prestigious international wine tasting event - nominally, as part of america's bicentennial celebration (and fostered, in part, by farina)!
i will confess to being a fan of dennis farina - long before stint on law and order - since that long-ago series, "crime story," in the 1980's. he fits into the garish 70's vintage plaid polyester suits perfectly! and i've been a fan of rickman since he tried to do away with bruce willis in "die hard!" the two actors make quite the unintended comedic duo in the scenes that bookend rickman's trip to californina. rickman, himself, is outstanding as an unflappable, albeit beleaguered, brit, in love with french wine culture, and in his traipsing through napa valley to find american wine good enough to compete against the french.
his trip to california opens with his beaten up gremlin suffering a flat tire. as he hopelessly tries to change it, bill pullman (conveniently, the owner of montelana winery) stops to help. that initial encounter sets the stage for pullman's subsequent antagonism toward rickman. but it's watching rickman make his way, tirelessly, across the various wineries that makes this good stuff. he eats kentucky fried chicken out of a bucket in his car, samples guacamole as part of a wine tasting, and even drinks wine out of a tumbler - all while wearing his stuffy 3-piece suit in the hot california sun - edgy stuff for his character!
despite being painted as an obnoxious snob - by pullman - rickman, instead, repeatedly comes off as endearing (a strange word choice, but appropriate). the climax of his trip is hilarious - at the airport counter he shockling discovers that the airline won't let him bring his precious bottles on board (only one per passenger). he and bo (pullman's son) engage the services of the fellow passengers about to board - each taking a bottle to carry on until rickman emptied the two cases he wanted to take on board. he, fittingly, walks on with just one bottle - of course, montelana.
while predictable, the suspense is artfully maintained during the blind-tasting in a bucolic farm in the french countryside. one thing that puzzled me was why the film-makers neglected to mention - until the film credits - that stags leap winery (another american winery) won in the red wine category! the entire film was focused on white wines (never mentioning reds at all)?! aside from that quirk, this is a fun movie to see. as an extra-added benefit, the panoramic vistas of napa valley are breath-taking.