Rachael Taylor

Bottle Shock (2008, Randall Miller)

I have to make a disclosure. I try to drink the highest Robert Parker rated wine I can afford. They’ve tended to be French. Actually, I think they’ve all been French. But whatever.

Because Bottle Shock seems rather like advertising for Napa Valley wine, so much so, I’d love to see who financed it. There should have been a disclosure (one way or the other), it’s so much of a commercial. And as a commercial, Bottle Shock does a fine job. It’s a good impression of one of those charming, Miramax-released little comedy dramas from the late 1990s. Some of these also even starred Alan Rickman. It’s got a reasonably appealing cast (in the Miramax version, the actors would be better known) and it’s a diverting couple hours.

Where Bottle Shock fails as a film is having real characters or real drama. In fact, it runs away from ever having either. The inevitable American win is foretold in the opening voiceover (the film’s use of voiceover is inane, but I guess they had a bunch of helicopter shots of Napa Valley and didn’t want to subject the viewer to any more of composer Mark Adler’s gratingly affable theme music)–there’s no suspense when it comes to the actual tasting. At best, the film could have shown the French response… instead, it’s barely implied. Having Rickman be the pseudo-Frenchman of the film (a francophile Brit) is, regardless of historical accuracy, not very filmic. The wine tasting is also cut in half–the film only shows the half relating to the film’s story, which makes certain subplots entirely wasted.

But the film also forgets about a lot. Take Freddy Rodriguez’s proud vineyard worker slash winemaker who briefly romances Rachael Taylor (who’s bad, but nowhere near as atrocious as usual and far better than Eliza Dushku, who has a glorified cameo) and fights bigotry where he finds it. Rodriguez plays a big part in the beginning, but then disappears. Chris Pine–as Pullman’s son–takes over the focus, as well as Taylor’s affections. The scene where Rodriguez and Taylor resolve their romance is missing, presumably cut to give Pine (the man who will be Kirk) more screen time.

Pine’s not bad. He’s not particularly good, either, but every single character in the film is so poorly written, it’s impossible to tell what he’d do. Actually, all signs are positive. He and Pullman do have one or two honest scenes; the movie’s so blissfully mediocre, it’s impossible to fault it for not being better.

Pullman and Rickman–and Dennis Farina–phone in their performances but they’re all excellent at what they’re doing. Rickman makes fun of being British, Farina makes a Chicago reference, and Pullman is sturdy but complicated. All things they’ve been doing for fifteen years. Bottle Shock should be Pine or Rodriguez’s film (Rodriguez is a tad broad however), but the script doesn’t allow it. The movie’s got to be about advertising that Napa Valley wine, not the characters. The end text reminds these are real people in the story and presumably bound to faithful retelling… it just doesn’t make their stories interesting. The characters, like I said before, are terrible–they’re out of TV commercials.

Randall Miller’s direction is annoying. He’s got some big cranes and a lot of helicopters and uses them all the time. He shoots the movie Panavision–I’m hoping to get the expanse of the vineyards in frame–but then does shaky handheld for conversation scenes. It adds to the movie’s air of incompetence. It’s not a charming air either.

Failing comparisons to those Miramax low budget charmers aside, Bottle Shock isn’t awful and it’s diverting enough. If it were a television movie, it’d probably be exceptional. Well, maybe if it were on USA or something, it’d be exceptional. I just wish they’d given some of the fine actors–Miguel Sandoval’s in it and I don’t even want to talk about the tiny (but wonderfully acted) Bradley Whitford appearance–characters to play instead of advertising to deliver.



Directed by Randall Miller; screenplay by Miller, Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz, based on a story by Schwartz, Lannette Pabon, Savin and Miller; director of photography, Mike Ozier; edited by Miller and Dan O’Brien; music by Mark Adler; production designer, Craig Stearns; produced by Miller, Savin, J. Todd Harris, Marc Toberoff, Brenda Lhormer and Marc Lhormer; released by Freestyle Releasing.

Starring Bill Pullman (Jim Barrett), Alan Rickman (Steven Spurrier), Chris Pine (Bo Barrett), Freddy Rodriguez (Gustavo Brambila), Rachael Taylor (Sam Clayton), Dennis Farina (Maurice Cantavale), Miguel Sandoval (Garcia), Eliza Dushku (Joe), Bradley Whitford (Professor Saunders) and Joe Regalbuto (Bill).

Man-Thing (2005, Brett Leonard)

I’ve actually seen Man-Thing before, back when it aired on Sci-Fi. Lionsgate’s DVD release has it in what appears to be an open matte 16:9, as opposed to 2.35:1 (which is how Sci-Fi aired it). So, I matted the DVD and tried the uncut version. It’s probably no better than the televised, but–and here’s why I’ve always had some affection for the movie–it’s interesting in its derivations. Screenwriter Hans Rodionoff seems, understandably, influenced by a couple major sources–Jaws and The Thing. It’s an odd mix, especially since the unknown factor from The Thing isn’t present at all in Man-Thing, but still Rodionoff–and especially Brett Leonard–manage to get that vibe.

Leonard’s direction is–not even taking his budget or the ludicrous nature of the movie into account–a success. Until the very last sequence, he’s golden. Even his semi-sepia tone for daylight and his green filters for the swamp scenes work. He gives Man-Thing a wonderful mood, making the silliness look good and bringing validity to the working parts. He’s just not a horror director and Rodionoff’s script sets Man-Thing up as a horror movie, a monster movie with a lot of suspects (who can’t possibly be guilty but by investigating and clearing each of them… well, it delays having to show the monster and spend the bucks doing so–kind of like a William Castle). Leonard can’t make anything scary. He also can’t get any chemistry between leads Matthew Le Nevez and Rachael Taylor, but that problem seems to be Taylor’s fault (and whoever cast her).

For budgetary reasons, the whole production is Australian. The locations work and maybe three of the cast members can handle the Southern accents (for a while). Luckily, Le Nevez is playing a “yankee,” something Rodionoff’s script frequently points out (though there are exceptions, Rodionoff’s got a couple rednecks straight from Deliverance) and only has to maintain a straight California TV accent. Le Nevez somehow manages to turn in a good performance, which is impressive, considering his face doesn’t seem to emote. But, when called for, he manages with his eyes. He makes the movie watchable for lots of parts, though he gets some help. Alex O’Loughlin, whose accent is shaky, is appealing as the sidekick and director Leonard’s acting turn as the bewildered coroner is good. Taylor’s awful, as is bad guy Patrick Thompson. The Native Americans who know all the answers, Rawiri Paratene and Steve Bastroni (a New Zealander and an Italian, respectively), have good moments and bad. Jack Thompson’s Mr. Big is a lot of fun, as he lays on his fake accent and turns up the volume. Man-Thing, as a comedy, would have probably worked… Even sinister redneck John Batchelor has his moments. But Taylor’s just awful.

Man-Thing‘s conclusion, which ties up the mystery and brings all the characters together, is a misstep. The Man-Thing special effects, when Leonard’s hiding them, are good and he even earns enough credit to get away with a couple long shots of the creature. But the convenient ending reveals the movie’s biggest problem (well, besides Taylor and the scenes with the real-life father and son Thompson team, which just get too goofy–and it’s clear Leonard isn’t directing for them–bad script, good direction)–Rodionoff doesn’t have a story. There’s no plot. Le Nevez’s new sheriff shows up and sees some stuff. Besides his silly romance and some serious mistakes, he’s inessential to the story unfolding. He’s a witness… and all the time spent with him doesn’t add up to anything in the way of narrative pay-off (evidenced by the movie’s abrupt ending).

A lot of the movie suggested, in the end, it’d get a point. The ending, though, and Taylor’s growing screen presence, knock it around too much. It’s just too bad Leonard, who can direct, and Rodionoff, who can at least plot compelling scenes… but maybe not full narratives, don’t do anything better.



Directed by Brett Leonard; screenplay by Hans Rodionoff, based on Marvel comics by Steve Gerber and Mike Ploog and the character created by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow; director of photography, Steve Arnold; edited by Martin Connor; music by Roger Mason; production designers, Tim Ferrier and Peter Pound; produced by Avi Arad, Scott Karol and Christopher Petzel; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Matthew Le Nevez (Sheriff Kyle Williams), Rachael Taylor (Teri Elizabeth Richards), Jack Thompson (Frederic Schist), Rawiri Paratene (Pete Horn), Alex O’Loughlin (Deputy Eric Fraser), Steve Bastoni (Rene LaRoque), Robert Mammone (Mike Ploog), Patrick Thompson (Jake Schist), William Zappa (Steve Gerber), John Batchelor (Wayne Thibadeaux), Ian Bliss (Rodney Thibadeaux) and Brett Leonard (Val Mayerick).

Transformers (2007, Michael Bay)

Transformers features giant robots fighting each other. Such scenes look excellent, from a special effects standpoint. Depending on the specifics of the scene–how the giant robots are fighting, fists or guns, and whether or not there are humans involved–sometimes the scenes are very well directed. While Transformers does have a lot of action, the robot fight scenes are mostly reserved for the end… and then Bay either does well or poorly. He can’t compose a real–punching, kicking, scratching, biting–fight scene. If there aren’t guns and cars involved, while it looks cool with the CG, it’s a flacid.

Complaining about that particular defect of Bay’s direction of the movie is a little cheap, because there’s so many bigger complaints to make. To get them over with… Bay doesn’t really get interested in the Transformers themselves. They only have a handful of scenes with any attempt at characterization and only one of them goes well and it’s because it’s a comedy scene and Bay used to direct comedic commercials, so he does it well. He’s also more in love with his military story than Shia LaBeouf’s, taking to so far as to give Megan Fox’s stupidly written character a lot more emphasis. LaBeouf’s character is poorly written too, but Fox’s is worse. What else. Oh. It doesn’t look like Michael Bay. There’s no sensuality–did I really just say Bay has a sensuality to his style? He does: the overcooked thing. Transformers has maybe five or six of those Bay shots. The rest is style-less. The action scenes are great, the chase scenes are good, but there’s no personality. It’s like Bay didn’t want to get bad reviews for his fast cuts or something (Spielberg’s a hands-on executive producer when it comes to blockbusters… anyone else remember the rumor he added the T-Rex-sized ghost to The Haunting himself?).

Even Bay’s creative casting is gone. In his Bruckheimer days, Bay movies would be filled with recognizable faces. Not so with Transformers. I kept hoping for someone interesting, but no one popped up. Not well known actors in supporting roles (like Bernie Mac or Kevin Dunn), but recognizable character actors in small roles. Nothing along those lines here….

I thought it might be because the Transformers were going to be significant, but they aren’t (as characters, anyway… as giant robots fighting, they’re fine). The present action of the film takes place over three or four days, with the Transformers coming in the night before the last day. They’re hardly there, which is one of the script’s major problems. Though maybe not. It’s a problem, but the script is so bad, it’s difficult to make qualitative judgments. Even if the movie makes no sense, the Transformers don’t have to have terrible dialogue. But they do. The script hurries things along so much, flipping between LaBeouf and Josh Duhamel’s army story. LaBeouf is far from an acting giant, but the script really does him a disservice… it sets him up as a shallow jerk-wad. I heard one of the screenwriters compare it to E.T., but it’s like E.T. if the audience was supposed to hate Elliot (I’m sure it’s just Bay who dislikes LaBeouf’s character, since he doesn’t fit the Bay macho man mold).

I was hoping it’d be something like Jurassic Park or Twister, an effective summer blockbuster with some degree of wonderment at its content. It has none. Bay’s just not the right director for it, even though some of it looks really cool (but I think that credit belongs to ILM).

But, who knows? Maybe if Bay were working from a vaguely competent screenplay… But the Transformer based on Stripe (from Gremlins) was really funny.



Directed by Michael Bay; written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, based on a story by John Rogers, Orci and Kurtzman; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Paul Rubell, Glen Scantlebury and Thomas A. Muldoon; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce; released by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Starring Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Tyrese Gibson (Technical Sergeant Epps), Josh Duhamel (Captain Lennox), Anthony Anderson (Glen Whitmann), Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Hugo Weaving (Megatron), Rachael Taylor (Maggie Madsen), John Turturro (Agent Simmons) and Jon Voight (Defense Secretary John Keller).

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