I’ve spent the past week viewing new films which have wine as their subject. Ever since the success of that idiotic “Sideways,” a stupidly formulaic buddy film that expects us to believe that those two guys are best friends, that ten-year-old Byron sparkling wine still has fizz, and that Sandra Oh can out-act her last name, filmmakers have seen wine as lucrative subject for a film, like superheroes, vampires and fart jokes. (I’ve always wondered, does blood-sucking cause flatulence? Remind me to ask Jay McInerney.) Several major studios sent me DVD’s of their upcoming theatrical releases. Here are my reviews.
Merging the Superhero genre with wine, director Francis Ford Crapolla tells the tale of Larry Mephitis, who volunteers to undergo a top secret assignment to sell overpriced Napa Valley Cabernets made by NBA players (Bartles and LeBron James, Kobe Bryant Family Vintage CryBaby Red, Alley Oopus One…) in China. Mad scientists (a memorable cameo by Randall Grahm as Rudolph Steiner—that other fraudulent Rudy) transform Mephitis into Mercaptan America!! Through some rather labored plot devices that involve the French Laundry changing its name to Chinese Laundry and serving monkey brains to James Laube, which raises his I.Q., as well as an amazing fight scene between Mercaptan America!! and Yao Ming that is remarkable for Yao’s nutsack being used for speed boxing, Mercaptan America is smuggled into China. Once there, our hero convinces the gullible Chinese that “those aren’t mercaptans, my friends, that’s the very smell of roadside America itself!” Apparently, there wasn’t much of a budget for the special effects (created by Industrial Light and Magic Johnson), so you’ll have a hard time believing those expensive Napa Cabernets are in such lightweight bottles. I also had a hard time swallowing Eric Asimov (as one would) as Mercaptan America!!’s love interest, though he positively glows.
You knew it was only a matter of time before Aaron Sorkin wrote a film about the wine business. In his signature Paddy Chayefsky Lite style (all the indignation, half the wit), Sorkin’s script is a vicious and predictably pedantic look at how Wine Spectator chooses its Top 100 Wines of the Year. Director Alan Smithee coaxes a brilliant performance from Billy Gardell (“Mike and Molly”) as Marvin Shanken, and the entire ensemble cast, who portray the reviewers for Wine Spectator, does a remarkable job making you feel like you’re right there making the Top 100 list with them. That is, you’re certain they don’t give a crap about you. Sorkin’s dialogue crackles. There’s a wonderful scene between James Laube (great casting of Marcel Marceau, nearly life-like) and Tim Fish (Don Knotts) which concludes with Fish speaking the memorable Sorkin lines, “California wine isn’t the greatest wine in the world, that’s just what we’re paid to sell the suckers. We’re shills, patsies, bought and paid for noses who assign crooked numbers in crooked fashion. And I, for one, couldn’t be prouder.” Ooh, that Sorkin is a genius.
THE STORY OF COCO VIN
From France comes this lovely little film about a young boy who decides at an early age he wants to become a sommelier. Recognizing his gifts, the Académie du Sneer in Paris grants the young CoCo a full scholarship. Graduating Summa Cum Elvis, CoCo then begins his studies for an M.W. In his tasting group is the alluring Chloe Vougeot, but CoCo is unsuccessful at getting past her walls and, downcast, he begins his slow descent into alcoholism, fortuitously a requirement for the M.W. Secretly, he begins to worship Chloe Vougeot, even going so far as to have her name tattooed on his meat thief. Well, up to the “l”-- he’s a sommelier after all. Chloe will have nothing to do with him until he is a working sommelier. CoCo finally passes his M.W. exam; in a suspenseful scene he successfully identifies an old Sancerre by meowing. CoCo then manages to regain his sobriety by dedicating his wine cellar to Grüner Veltliner, Prosecco and Tannat in a Can. He is hired by a Three Michelin Star restaurant in Lyon at the tender age of 22 and proceeds to overhaul the wine list and sell only natural wines. He is given a medal by the Sommelier Society for “Arrogance in the Face of Customer Service.” Chloe finally throws herself at CoCo Vin, and after a passionate and erotic lovemaking scene where Chloe traces his tattoo and wants to know, “Where did the Vou geot?,” the two are seen honeymooning in South Africa, CoCo’s trademark lip curled. The moral of the story? Sneer, and yet safari.