Bottle Shock

Many films attempt to convey the passion, craftsmanship, and heart that are poured into the given trade or pursuit they portray but few truly succeed in transferring that passion to a debutant audience as deftly as Bottle Shock. I'm no wine buff and I'll be first to admit that I was forced to use the phone a friend life line at the liquor store in order to find a decent wine to compliment the film (I went with a Yellow Tail 2007 Chardonnay), but I was well and truly caught up in the passion of winemaking by the poignant, human, and ultimately whimsical portrayals of the founding fathers of the California wineries that transformed the industry from being centered on a single country to a truly global affair.

To shed a bit of perspective on the film and the central tasting that occurred in 1976 one need only stop by their local liquor store and take in the multiplicity of countries producing top quality wine, something that until now I took for granted. Being born most of a decade after the tasting depicted in Bottle Shock I grew up with wine enthusiast parents who as far back as I can remember have been drinking wines across four continents. I even grew up with the Nappa (and Sonoma) Valley as a house hold name, but had no idea until watching Bottle Shock that it was scarcely five years after the historic tasting that my parents travelled down to California on their honeymoon. Thus, I could end the review by simply stating that the importance of the events portrayed justify a viewing all on it's own but that would be selling the film itself extremely short.

Beyond just being a story about wine, Bottle Shock (as a video release) enters the canon of American filmmaking at an almost unprecedented time of penitence and self mortification largely brought on by the lingering ghosts of the Bush administration, and is thus a welcome breath of fresh air of what might as well be called the American equivalent of the Arthurian spirit, evoking that which is greatest about Americans; the entrepreneurial drive and almost need to take the role of the scrappy underdog challenging the established elite (see Hidalgo, The Last Samurai, Rocky, etc). It isn't a post imperial expression of American hegemony but the human and affecting tale of an uncompromising quest for legitimacy, for vindication.

What really marks Bottle Shock as being an important film in it's own right irrespective of the historical and cultural impact is that it has a heart a mile wide and a vulnerability of spirit that denies it any kind of ribcage of post modern ironic distance or Hollywood bravado. Shades of Waiting for Guffman are especially present in the unlikely, ungainly characters who make up the California wine growers vying for the attention of Alan Rickman's visiting wine guru, but the script never compromises them for a cheap laugh and instead uses stunning silent moments of dense visual texture to vindicate them through the literal fruits of their labour, most brilliantly portrayed in a quiet, subtle sequence in which Rickman's character tastes guacamole for what one is lead to believe is the first time of his life.

Rickman functions as a clever and effective foil for the eccentric but human and richly compelling performances by Chris Pine and Bill Pullman who play the real life father son wine growing team at the heart of the narrative. Pine's charm and swagger are transcendent in his breakthrough role (which he followed up with by leading JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot as the legendary James T Kirk), balanced by Pullman's rumpled cynicism. Their dynamic, however bizarre it gets, (specifically their penchant for stepping into an outdoor boxing ring set up in the middle of the vinyard to face off against each other whenever tempers flare) is tempered by layered, organic performances that drive the core of the film and do most of the legwork in giving the viewer a reason to invest in their world and rise to fame from obscurity.

In short, Bottle Shock is a contemporary classic of American film that is unmissable for a multiplicity of reasons, but most of all because it moves beyond the cliches of so called indie cinema to return to a form that is as compelling as it is entertaining.


I got the chance to watch Crips and Bloods: Made In America, a brilliant little known documentary chronicling the black presence in Southern California from the industrial boom at the onset of World War 2 until the present in an effort to chart the social conditions that led to the creation of the Crips and Bloods gangs whose ongoing war has lasted for decades unabated except for a brief period during and after the riots triggered by the Rodney King verdict.

Out of everything I encountered one specific line of narration has haunted me, the fact that many of the people living in the effected areas of Los Angeles have never seen the Pacific Ocean. From that basic fact arose the idea for a story that for now I'm just going to call Cees, a hip hop slang term for children that I believe I first heard in Dead Prez's Bigger Than Hip Hop. The basic plot is that two young brothers (aged somewhere between nine and twelve) living in war torn Los Angeles get it into their heads that they are going to the beach to see the ocean and nothing is going to stop them.

One thing I've noticed in practically every current narrative portrayal of abject poverty and the violence it generates in the urban US children are portrayed as not much more than victims of circumstance that more or less function as subjects of pity. I loved the fourth season of The Wire as much as anyone did, but the youth put in prominence were there to show the human cost of the breakdown of the social safety net and education system. Outside of surrealist and fantasy cinema (Pan's Labrynth, Surveillance) there hasn't been much of a report on the resilience and spirit of children in the face of adversity that crushes most adults.

What I want to create is something that is as whimsical and hopeful as it is poignant and disturbing, like the early childhood scenes of Slumdog Millionaire but with more mythic grandeur. To my protagonists in Cees, their trip to the beach- incredibly banal by the standards of most of the intended audience- carries the same mythic weight and dizzying sense of adventure as Frodo Baggins joining Gandalf or Luke Skywalker leaving Tattooine for the first time. They're crafty, canny youth who understand how to navigate the complex and dangerous jungle of their home environment albeit with the guileless naivety of youth. Stay tuned.

Aphorisms Round One

1. The most radical perspective/experience in our heterosexual male dominated society is that of the feminist lesbian.

2. People complain about the fact that Quentin Tarantino brought talking about movies within movies into vogue. What's more important is that he initiated an open dialogue about the significance of pop culture in every day life as well as empower the average viewer to begin interpreting film in new ways. Consider the sequence in Inglorious Basterds where the Nazi officer guesses a description the plot of King Kong as being "the experience of the Negro in America," which is a perfectly valid and darkly comic interpretation of the film itself. In every one of his films Tarantino invites and encourages his audience to investigate and interpret film, movies, and music in new and imaginative ways.

3. There are two groups of old white men from whom the control of popular narrative in the (western) world must be taken if we are to move forward into a progressive future; the ones placed as the arbiters of what is Important and the ones who control the mediums through which new narratives are created and transmitted.

A Brief Feminist Critique of Mulan

I've been getting a lot of shit lately for attacking Mulan, as if the movie is somehow "empowering" or "positive," which is probably the biggest farce I've heard in a while.

1. Mulan has to dress up like a man and pretend to be a man to be accepted as an equal among the men.
2. Mulan at no point in the film demonstrates her ability to succeed without a man. Even her little dragon mentor Mushuu is a man.
3. Mulan is never shown to be equal or superior to her male romantic interest. She is submissive to him at every turn, and returns to the typical accepted appearance and role at the conclusion of the film.

There. Fuck off, it's just as paternalistic and retrograde as The Little Mermaid, if not moreso for attempting to trick people into thinking it's somehow empowering to women.

Fringe season two news!

One of the great things about working in a video store in Hollywood North is that almost every day you have people in the industry coming in to pick up movies and shows they worked on. Today I got lucky enough to talk to a guy working on the second season of Fringe (filming here in Vancouver, the first season was filmed in the US) who was renting the first season to get caught up on what happened before he joined the production.

Apparently he's one of the self described "monster guys," prosthetics specifically. I can't really convey into words how excited he was to be working on the show, that's how stoked he was. According to him they're pouring money into Fringe to the tune of what is usually spent on a feature film and the intent of season two is to go far beyond the scale of events in the first. He also said that they've been on set for up to eighteen hours when TV shows do not typically run that late (feature films frequently do).

Add in the rumour that Fox is attempting to bring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny onto the show as a pair of famous FBI agents and you've got one hell of a production. I can't wait to finish season one and get onto the new season now!

The Elephantine Mouse in the Room

One of the most important things I ever learned from Doctor Who is that humanity will never cease to surprise, and by no means is that always a positive. Until quite recently, I was dead certain that we lived in the information age where the importance of intellectual property and who owns it was very well understood. The complete lack of concern over Disney's purchase of Marvel proved otherwise. This is a pretty terrible thing, and I'm not talking about any kind of phantom fear of Daredevil having to change his name to Dareangel or anything that insipid. What we are staring down the barrel of is one singular corporate entity weilding a massive fucking chunk of the most valuable and well known intellectual property in the world. Why it's particularily frightening that Disney is that entity takes a bit of context and a history lesson of sorts.

The year is 2007, it's a balmy summer evening in Calgary and I'm ignoring a beautiful sunset over the river because I'm gamely trying to impress the most beautiful woman I've ever seen with a kind of stump speech- that kind of irreverent yet pointed interpretation of pop culture you usually see in a Kevin Smith movie- about the lack of interesting or progressive male role models in Disney films. With the exception of Bambi, which was in my mind the real hook. That plucky little deer who grows up practically without a father, saves the forest, and refuses to buy into the might-makes-right alpha male complex when it comes time to fight for his woman. It all went according to plan. Until she responded.

According to her, the look on my face when she demolished my argument and completely reconfigured my perspective and understanding of Disney films was such that she never expected to hear from me again. (She's now my girlfriend.) Her opening line, a verbal left jab to the head, was to shift the focus from Bambi and his merits to the fact that his mate was little more than a docile, submissive female there for him to protect and bear his children. Pop went that balloon, but on she went, going through each Disney Princess and tearing each one down, explaining which stereotype each belonged to and why it was essentially worse that young girls had these characters to look up to than if they had none.

Beyond just dismantling my opinion, what Katrina highlighted was how Disney has, through their films, been able to influence public discourse on femininity and the role of women in society by disseminating a decidedly patriarchal perspective to a massive audience of fertile young minds. Feminist literary critics have for years wryly pointed out that womens' stories typically end in either marriage or death (say nothing about the fact that the literary female is almost to a fault defined by the men in her life). Disney Princess stories all end in marriage. Marriage to rich, handsome princes.

While it's true that the majority of Disney films- especially those dubbed Princess Movies- are based on much older material than the cartoons, there has never been much interest or attempt at altering the source material beyond changing the endings where the protagonist died to the protagonist getting married. There is not a single Disney Princess movie that does not feature a romantic relationship that is based on a man coming to the rescue of a woman. While some of the female protagonists assert themselves or attempt to gain control of one facet of their life or another, they are all ultimately submissive to their male love interest.

Which, is how the Sex and the City movie ends, with Big proposing to Carrie using one of her diamond encrusted shoes in lieu of a ring. The obvious reference to Cinderella wasn't even truly necessary to illustrate what the ultimate arc of the series- or at least Carrie's character arc- was; which is essentially that the duty of the Post Feminist Woman is to toil at a career and navigate the jungle of contemporary dating just long enough to find the Prince Charming ready to sweep her off her feet. It's all a cleverly masked shell game; it pretends to celebrate female economic and sexual independence while ultimately giving a thumbs up to the traditional paternalistic view of marriage. It's Disney for Grown Ups, and the best example of how pervasive the influence of Disney's repackaged fairy tales is, especially in fiction targeted at women.

At this point, it probably isn't all that clear what the social and cultural impact of Disney Princess movies has to do with the Marvel purchase. When the news about the purchase broke, representatives from Disney were widely quoted as saying that it's primary interest in Marvel is to reach the young male demographic that has- relative to it's female counterpart- eluded them in recent years. Given the kind of conservative, self-limiting message Disney has been hugely successful at marketing to young girls, I am very concerned about these same people gaining control over a large stable of characters aimed directly at impressionable boys.

Which is a very important point to make even if you take the deluded perspective that Disney only wants Marvel as an intellectual property farm for movies and merchandising, which I simply cannot believe given Disney's history in meddling with their subsidiaries, most notably film studio Miramax, pressuring the Weinstein brothers to push back release dates, purchase the international distribution rights from Disney to be sold to a third party, or in the case of Kids, purchase the film from Disney altogether, effectively removing their name from it. In every case the dispute was caused over objectionable content that sparked backlash from political and religious groups, most notably in the case of Michael Moore's documentary Fareheit 9/11. This of course contributed greatly to the Weinsteins' acrimonious departure from Disney to found their second company, The Weinstein Company.

Disney also had very public and acrimonious disputes with another collaborator; 3D animation juggernaut Pixar. It's important to note that the majority of the disputes between Pixar and Disney came while Pixar was under contract but a separate entity from Disney, and that the later purchase of Pixar came with negociations that resulted in many consessions in Pixar's favor due to their status and worth including a restructuring of the animation department that re-opened the 2D animation department and closed the direct to video department (after the release of Tinkerbell, which was the culmination of a bitter battle begun with Disney's attempt to make a Pixar opposed Toy Story sequel that forced the creation and release of Toy Story 2, taking John Lasseter off production of Monsters Inc and later led to a public debate between Steve Jobs and Michael Eisner).

In addition to Marvel having no such leverage over how Disney as a corporation will interact with them and their properties, the current leadership (above and beyond Editor in Chief Joe Quesada) has been traditionally fidgety in issues that may offend the sensibilities of important Hollywood types. In short, Avi Arad watches what happens in the comics carefully and is never afraid to lower the boom. The most notorious incident involves internet muckracker Rich Johnston informing The Daily Mail that Peter Milligan and Michael Allred were prepped and ready to publish a comic that featured the reanimated spirit of Princess Diana on a superhero team. The story goes that it was pressure from Arad, who was losing face with his Diana-worshipping Hollywood connections that forced Milligan and Allred to re-create the arc using a dead brunette popstar of their own invention, which greatly compromised the story and it's impact in parodying contemporary celebrity culture.

Since at least 2003 Avi Arad and Dan Buckley were eager to sell Marvel to Hollywood, although they bitterly argued about whether they should make overtures to Sony or Paramount (among other things), which as the example above shows, compromised the more daring creative minds at Marvel and the political manoevering doesn't end there. Shortly after the controversy surrounding the X Statix arc broke, Rich Johnston was in contact with a source either from within or close to Marvel going by the name Felicia who outlined- filtered through her own interpolations and opinions- what the next few years of Marvel would look like. The only thing that stopped it from happening is that it took another six years for Marvel to find the right buyer.

One of the more important parts of her diatribe was to point out that- in 2003 (before the release of Spiderman 2 or 3)- the publication arm of Marvel accounted for 5% of the company's revenue, which among other things led Dan Buckley to do insane things to attempt to justify its (read his) continued existence. With Quesada in tow, the two poured over every communication from the west coast they could in order to find tidbits of how the characters would be interpreted in the movies and as much as possible integrate these changes into their comic book counterparts as soon as possible, including such things as Spider-man's organic webbing and Bullseye's revised Colin Farrel look not to mention the primary unspoken motive behind the "One More Day" fiasco. Quesada's personal vision for the continued existence of Marvel comics is a literal interpetation of the company's nickname the "House of Ideas," to essentially become a pitch farm for movies and video games, a concept that so far has only been successful for individual creators (Mark Millar, J. Michael Strazynski, Tim Seeley, Robert Kirkman) but has shown no promise for entire companies. Successful or not, the tactic serves only to diminish the potential and actualization of the medium.

At the end of the day, the Disney purchase is just adding one more layer to an already poisonous cake that will not- under current leadership- result in the enviable creative and market position currently enjoyed by DC. The degree of creative autonomy enjoyed at DC and their upcoming shift to a position of contribution and consultation in brand usage across Time-Warner did not come overnight. It required the integrity and determination of Paul Levitz, Karen Berger, and Jim Lee as well as Warner Brothers' hands off approach to DC's output that allowed them the freedom to craft daring narratives, and tread on nearly any ground they desired. None of the elements of that equation exist in the current leadership at Marvel, and none of it is present at Disney either. I'm not here to Chicken Little, I'm here to remind you that Dark Reign is the perfect metaphor for Marvel. You've just got to hope there's an Emma Frost at the table.



Welcome to it.

These are my ramblings. Have a go if you think you're hard.