DVD Review: Bottle Shock (2008)

This Rare Cinematic Vintage
Of Sophistication & Charm Is
Now Available to Own From Fox DVD

Related Titles for the Wine Enthusiast
(Note: They Go Equally Well With Red or White)

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There's a moment in Bottle Shock when Six Feet Under and Ugly Betty star Freddy Rodriguez manages to steal the entire film while giving a fiercely passionate speech arguing that in order to make truly great wine, you must have it in your blood.

Granted, he is eventually proven wrong by the film's underdog hero in the form of his boss Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman)-- a gifted new vintner in this retelling of one of the most astounding feats of wine-making in American history as Napa vineyards were put on the map when they managed to outperform in competition with the celebrated French varietals during a blind taste-test. However, ultimately what Rodriguez's Gustavo is arguing for is above all having the utmost respect for the grape which begins with the rich soil that one must live and breathe in order to master their craft.

A picturesque tribute to California's wine version of paradise-- husband and wife team Randall Miller and Jody Savin's sublimely beautiful retelling of Barrett's 1976 landmark Time Magazine reported and Smithsonian Museum historical success which opened the doors to varietals from all around the globe seems to have been made with the same level of integrity, teamwork, craftsmanship, and devotion to the ultimate offering that makes one think that if they were to ever seek a second career, Miller and Savin may become quite successful as vintners in their own right.

The soil in this case was not only the original source material but Ross Schwartz's original screenplay which centered on the now forgotten Paris tastings that set the stage for the modern day California wineries celebrated in 20th Century Fox's 2004 Oscar winning release Sideways (which has incidentally been released on Blu-ray and made available in DVD form as a "Perfect Pairing" two film pack along with Shock back on 2/3/09).

Reworking the script to fashion it to their own tastes by staying as close to the facts as possible (as far as the real life characters were concerned), they added in two great female roles including Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Eliza Dushku as a strong-willed bartender and Transformers' Rachael Taylor as a beautiful intern who comes between Gustavo and Jim's son Bo (Chris Pine). Additionally, Savin and Miller tended to their "grape" by ensuring they had the best collaborators involved by surrounding themselves with a large number of cast and crew they'd worked alongside in their two previous independent films, Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School and Nobel Son.

Soon after quickly penning "twenty pages over a few days" of the Bottle Shock script to present to their Nobel Son star Alan Rickman-- the actor signed on as well as two other Nobel players Pullman and Dushku. Thus, the film found its two ultimate "outsider" anchors in both America and France respectively as the British Rickman plays struggling Parisian wine shop owner Steven Spurrier who (given the table closest to the kitchen at events and with a nearly empty shop) concocts the idea to stage the blind taste-test as a publicity stunt to raise revenue and Pullman portrays an attorney who'd left his job after his wife left him and married his boss to run a vineyard.

While on the surface, the two men couldn't be more different as Rickman excels as playing the ultimate snob and Pullman infuses his part with the same good-natured blue-collared heart he's used in numerous performances-- after awhile, it becomes very apparent that they're much more alike than they realize as both are stubborn individuals who feel insecure in their professions, don't exactly fit in in their surroundings and are staking their livelihood on their passionate dream.

While the characterization of Jim's son Bo Barrett (Chris Pine)-- a hippie slacker surfer dude who squanders all he has-- initially grates on the nerves especially upon the arrival of Taylor's gorgeous Sam who catches the eye of both Bo and Gustavo and we find ourselves rooting against Bo for a majority of the film because of this fictionalized plot, it's highly rewarding to see the way he gets himself together to help his father in the end.

Gorgeously shot by Michael J. Ozier who made an effort to "maximize the magic hour" just before sunset as "the whole crew would go into shooting overdrive" to get the "golden hue" tinge that's most apparent during Northern California's harvest time as director Randall Miller notes in the press release-- the film's exceptional beauty makes your breath catch, especially on a DVD up-convert or Blu-ray player and although the transfer to DVD is gorgeous, I for one would love to see this film (as well as the new version of Sideways) on Blu-ray.

Although Bottle Shock was filmed over the period of a month and a half after securing the permission of Sonoma's town counsel and relocating to the film's location two months prior "with the production financing still only partially in place," (again echoing the economic struggle and endless bank loans Barrett needed to turn his winery into a success back in 1976, the film's breakneck pace isn't apparent at all in its roving picturesque final cut.

Amazingly completed just two days before it debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival to a standing ovation (after obtaining a special exception to submit their film for acceptance even though photography began following the cut-off date), their gorgeous indie sleeper which earned some critical raves and a few far too predictable comparisons to not only Sideways but Fox's other indie that could Little Miss Sunshine and the '70s era underdog epic Rocky-- sadly flew under the radar upon its limited national release.

Although you do wish that a few of the plot-points involving Pine's less-than-identifiable Bo would have been reworked and find yourself especially taken in by the film's subplot featuring Rodriguez's Gustavo-- it's a highly satisfying feel-great film that's sophisticated, stylish, smart and well-worth tracking down whether or not you can tell a Cabernet from a Merlot or a Chardonnay from a Pinot Grigio (although if this is the case, you may want to keep that to yourself).

Shock features the DVD standards of deleted scenes and audio commentary with the cast and crew. However, two of the best gems included are An Underdog's Journey: The Making of Bottle Shock which offers some engaging comments from supporting players like scene stealer Dennis Farina as Rickman's sole customer in Paris and a mini-documentary on Chateau Montelena: One Winery's Search for Excellence. For, just like the making-of-featurette, it introduces us to the real Bo and Jim Barrett and seems to indicate-- much like Savin and Miller's passion for cinematic storytelling, the Barretts also seem to have their craft in their blood.