Movie ads in the newspapers are a great barometer of … nothing. Except perhaps gullibility.
Studios often get pseudo-reviewers who are their lackeys to trumpet praise over the least deserving of movies. These dupers get their names in the papers, and the studio gets easy pub. These “reviewers” are a squad of foot soldiers who leap blindly into Twentieth-Century Foxholes or MGM holes. They scream, “It's the best movie I saw today!”
This summer a reviewer acquaintance of mine was asked by a studio to put his name on their quote, “It's the best movie of the summer.” A lot of times he goes along, but to his credit this time he said no. So they got someone else.
When I see Pete Hammond, Earl Dittmann, Shawn Edwards, Larry King or Rex Reed quoted in the ads, I think, Uh, oh, that movie's a loser. They couldn't enlist any of the real reviewers.
Every once in a while there's an aberration, and the swined and dined “reviewers” throw themselves on a film that's not a dud. Even a blind squirrelly “reviewer” occasionally finds a nut.
All this came to mind when I saw the ad for “Bottle Shock,” in which Hammond and sexy Rexy were ecstatic. I thought their hyperbolic recommendations probably meant the movie was awful. The fact that on Rottentomatoes.com, “Bottle Shock” received only 46 percent favorable rating also seemed a harbinger of doom.
But Alan Rickman is one of my favorite actors, and I wanted to see “Bottle Shock” if only for his performance. Rickman's performance is great as usual, and “Bottle Shock,” despite some contrivance, is a very entertaining movie.
Based on actual events in 1976, “Bottle Shock” is the story of how a California winery struggles to survive, in a world where viniculture is dominated by the French, and banks foreclose.
Rickman plays Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who runs a faltering, small wine store in France. He decides to travel to California to study wines there and bring some back for a wine tasting in France, which will allow France and England to dominate America on the 200th anniversary of American independence.
In California Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) is the owner of a winery that is on its last dregs. He is overextended with bank loans, but he is still stubborn and destructively prideful. His son Bo (Chris Pine) is a hippie who has a spirited relationship with his unyielding dad. Also working in the winery are wine-wizard Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez) and fetching intern Sam (Rachael Taylor).
The best part of the film is the performance by Alan Rickman. He was and is in seven Harry Potter movies, including the upcoming two, as Severus Snape, and he played the judge in “Sweeney Todd” (2007) and the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991). He was terrific in the underrated “Blow Dry” (2000).
As the wine snob in Bottle Shock he acts as though he constantly has acrid lemon juice in his mouth. He is droll,ascerbic, slightly prissy, arch and vulnerable.
Rickman always seems to find the bedrock humanity in his characters. Some of the moments when he tastes California wine are priceless. He's cautious, wary, surprised, pleased and baffled. Rickman drinks the gamut.
Bill Pullman is solid as the annoyingly-certain winery owner. Chris Pine, as Bo, takes a little while to get used to, but he grows in the role. (Pine is playing Kirk in the 2009 movie Star Trek.) Dennis Farina has a very good time in the role of an expatriate from Milwaukee who is Steven's friend.
Freddy Rodriguez (TV’s “Six Feet Under”) and Miguel Sandoval (the D.A. in TV's “Medium”) are appealing as two Mexicans who believe in the land and that wine is an art.
Australian Rachael Taylor and Eliza Dushku (20 episodes as Faith in TVs “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) are fine as two strong, independent young women.
Director Randall Miller makes a few missteps, such as the overlong introduction of the wine judges, but he creates a journey that has charm and emotion.
The screenplay is credited to three writers. The dialogue is at times is too writerly, but it generally works.
Basically “Bottle Shock” is an uplifting, feel-good movie. It translates the pleasure of wine tasting into the sensual pleasure of moviegoing.
I'll drink to that.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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