Victoria Jelinek

Bottle Shock

bottle_shock_ver3_xlgIn 1976 there was a blind wine taste-testing held in France, where all the judges were French. The result of the contest? The wines of California’s Napa Valley defeated the best wines France had to offer – mon dieu! Bottle Shock is the fictionalized version of this true event, with the added story of the underdog winery deeply in debt, and a problematic relationship between a father and his slacker son who run the winery together.

Even as the outcome of the story is predictable, it is a charming film. The direction is solid, the cinematography picturesque, and the cast is good. Bill Pullman is believable as the tough and angry man who runs Chateau Montelena. Chris Pine is sympathetic as his lazy, long-haired son, Bo. And Alan Rickman as the British wine lover living in Paris who instigates the contest in the first place (thinking the French wines would win!) is quietly and wonderfully comic. “But did you know that it’s the struggling, thirsty vines that make the best wines? They can’t just sit there sipping water.” They must labor to thrive. These lines from the film sum up what makes this movie engaging – it’s about people who love their work and do it well. People who talk about it with passion and with knowledge. And people who are motivated to continue despite seemingly insurmountable odds.





Nebraska posterAging, booze-addled, and confused Montana resident Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) repeatedly tries to make his way on foot to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to claim a $1 million Mega Sweepstakes marketing prize. To keep him from harm, Woody’s son David (Will Forte) drives the old man there, stopping for a visit in his father’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska to break up the journey.

Woody’s old stomping ground is a boundless rural plain, punctuated by barns, pick up trucks, rusting farm equipment, and churches.  Shortly after arriving, Woody and David are joined by Woody’s wife Kate (June Squibb) and their other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) for a reunion with Woody’s family. Before long, ancient grudges rise to the surface, prompted by the prospect of money. Over the course of the film, David begins to learn more about his mom and dad, and, therefore, himself. And we, the audience, are prompted to contemplate the nature of family, our origins, our dynamics, our choices, and our movements.

Director Alexander Payne has already demonstrated that he is a talented filmmaker, as evidenced by his films Election, Sideways, and About Schmidt. Like these other films, this film is heavily nuanced, subtly comedic, and incredibly observant. The performances are affecting, the cinematography is beautiful (shot in black & white), and the screenplay is seemingly effortless.