Whatever Works

woodyallenWoody Allen’s 40th film as a writer/director has just been released,  the wine equivalent of producing 40 vintages in a row, from 1969-2009.

Whether with movies or wine, not all are going to be great, some might even be downright bad.

And yet, to paraphrase Woody at the end of his masterpiece, Annie Hall, as with love, we keep coming back again and again because we need the experience to survive.

We have a longstanding opening night Woody ritual with another couple that dates back at least as far as Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).  And over the years I’ve been very forgiving of his films, finding his work on the worst day better than the majority toiling away in Hollywood.  Up until Friday night.

To put it in perspective, I’ve haven’t squirmed this much in my seat since my kindergarten graduation (1971).

On the surface it should have been a winner.  Woody being channeled by another comedic favorite of mine, Larry David.  Unfortunately the set up is contrived, the dialogue (always a plus in Woody’s films) feels stilted, forced and unbelievable and there’s nothing to engage us, not even a return to the streets of New York, something that in many past films has made me question why I ever left the city for California.

Still the movie did good business in select cities, proving there are others like me who give him the benefit of the doubt because he has entertained us so much in the past.  It also proves that critics play little if no role in people paying money to see his films.  It’s this way with wine sometimes, and for the better.

Some filmmakers and winemakers deserve our time and money because they are good at what they do.  And just as a story can be flawed for many reasons, so too can a wine in a given vintage.  Which is not to say that critics do not have their place in the equation.

But in the end, we as consumers have to make our own choices, if only for the chance to see another Manhattan or drink another 1995 Rubicon (a wine produced, perhaps appropriately by another director responsible for some of the best and not so best movies of all time).

Being creative for a living is hard, and if you’re lucky you’ll have more hits than misses.  But the goal, I think, is to be critic proof, that is to say forge such a strong bond with your audience that they’ll force you to keep trying to produce another masterpiece year after year, even if you fall short sometimes.

Because in wine, movies and love, “…we just need the eggs.”

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Published in: on June 22, 2009 at 1:17 pm  Comments (2)  

Movie Review: Bottle Shock

Given that “Bottle Shock” is one of only four movies I can think of off the top of my head related to wine, it may be a futile gesture to create a category for movie reviews.  But I guess there’s nothing wrong with being hopeful more films like these will find their way to your local multiplex, though more likely they’ll be playing once a day at the (almost) extinct art house theater.

You know the kind of place I’m taking about.  A two or three screen box situated downstairs in some mini mall, surrounded by a dance studio and local real estate agent that’s been “serving your home buying needs since 1949.”

The only theater harder to find would be one showing more “adult” fare (and I don’t mean Clint Eastwood films).

Its got the old seats with springs-a-poppin’, a sound system created when phonograph records were popular and a screen so splattered with soda that you think the splotch resembling a man in a top hat is actually part of the show.

I suppose that even prior to Netflix and home theater technology these ancient palaces to movies that don’t make money were long on the way out.  In fact, for all my nostalgia, I saw “Bottle Shock” in someone’s house, on a pristine screen, with great sound and of course a glass of wine resting on the table next to me.

“Bottle Shock” takes place in those carefree California winemaking days of the mid-seventies where many who had found their way to the Napa Valley were former city dwellers who decided that a more laid back existence, absence the hustle/bustle was the only way to live.  And thankfully that mind set does not seem to have changed much – even if big is now the business du jour in NoCal.

Set as the antithesis of this rural paradise is the wine shop of a Brit living in Paris.  Played by Alan Rickman, you just love it every time he’s on screen – though who doesn’t feel that about Alan Rickman in every movie he’s in (see: Die Hard to Sweeny Todd)?  And adding to his charm is Dennis Farina as his ex-pat American sidekick.

For some reason, the actors on this side of the pond didn’t do as much for me.  Something tells me that the real life Jim Barrett is far more interesting than Bill Pullman was in portraying him and the others main characters, playing Jim’s son, Beau, and the blonde intern fond of flashing her boobies to hitch a ride, could have been played by any number of better actors.

This said, I will single out Freddy Rodriquez, he of one of my favorite all time teen comedies, “Can’t Hardly Wait” as well as “Six Feet Under.”  Playing real life winery worker/aspiring vintner, Gustavo Brambila, the passion he showed in making his own wine was inspiring.  So much so that after writing this post I’m going to find and buy a few bottles of his.

But all this is an aside to the real crux of the film.  Alan Rickman’s character sets out to find the best American wine at that time and match it  against the some of the finest French offerings, putting together a panel of experts to taste these wines blind and judge them.

I won’t delve too far into what happened, even though most people reading this probably do anyway.  Suffice to say that the tasting, in 1976 was the “Big Bang” for the California wine industry.

Overall the movie was good, even if there were some flashes of Hollywood contrivance that were noticeable but not offensive.

This was a feel good movie and I finished it feeling good.  Mission accomplished.

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment