Monday, 27 October 2014

Who needs blockbusters?

“We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax,” said Sam Goldwyn, summing up his ideal vision of a film.

That sentiment came back to me when we started watching Get Low the other night. OK, so it doesn’t start with an earthquake, but pretty much the next best thing: a house aflame, blazing away. 

And then it gets going.

Now, I can’t pretend it’s one of the great classics. If you’re expecting dazzling insights into the human condition, and answers to the fundamental questions that have puzzled mankind down the millennia, Get Low is probably not for you. If, on the other hand, you like the idea of a man organising his own funeral, to be held while he
’s still alive, so that he can tell his neighbours what really happened forty years earlier, then it’s worth taking a look at. Especially if you like being entertained without being exhausted by the process.

Get Low: Robert Duvall calls in the undertaker (Lucas Black)
to plan his living funeral
We watched it at home the night after we’d been out to see Gone Girl. Bit more of a blockbuster than Get Low, but hats off to any film that can hold my attention for over two hours. The descent into hell has always struck me as a great plot device (particularly since Eyes Wide Shut, one of the best examples of the genre), and this one comes with a hymn to a master manipulator thrown in – what could be better? 

Well, actually, what would be better is a film that didn’t strain credibility quite so much. I do like a touch of verisimilitude with my fantasy, and in Gone Girl it was as gone as the girl.

So it was a pleasure to try another non-blockbuster, Bottle Shock. This tells the story of that great moment in wine history, the 1976 tasting contest when a panel of Frenchmen gave the top prize for both red and white wine to Californian vintages over French ones. A great story, so how could the film truly fail? Especially when you include Alan Ryckman in the cast. 

Actually, he was almost as good as the real star of the film, the wine: Rickman was wonderful as the Brit cold-shouldered by the French and distrusted (or disrespected) by the Americans. As he falls for the allure of the Napa Valley.

Two great stars, a fine combination:
Alan Rickman: a louche Englishman enjoys Napa Valley's best
And Bottle Shock has another attractive characteristic, just like the classic wine film, Sideways, that taught me to appreciate that prince of grapes, Pinot Noir. The thing about such films is that they prompt you to watch them accompanied by the ideal enhancement to the pleasure, a good bottle. That’s how we got the most from Bottle Shock: as well as the film we indulged in a little good Beaujolais, a drop or two of a fine Rioja. It was only a pity we didn’t have something special from the Napa Valley, to celebrate its success in its own vintage.

Still, it was a good evening. And it rather proved that, though the odd blockbuster’s worth seeing, it can be just as much fun to watch something far less well known. 

Especially when the experience is properly lubricated.

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