Friday, August 28, 2015


Written and directed by Jason Wise. Starring Bo Barrett, Shayn Bjornholm, Dave Cauble, and Ian Cauble.
Bottom line: Somm is a stellar documentary about the fascinating world of sommeliers.

A sommelier is an expert of wine. Sommeliers assist restaurants in wine selections and wine pairings. There are several levels of official sommeliers with the highest rank being the Master. In the decades that the test has been around, only a couple hundred people have passed around the world. Somm is a documentary that follows a group of guys as they complete their year of preparation for the exam to become Master Sommeliers.

Somm does a wonderful job of balancing the magnitude of the test (by establishing its difficulty and significance) as well as the emotional impact of the test. We come to feel (not just understand) how hard people study for the test and the stress it creates. Each of the students are presented in such a way that you root for them all. Initially, I thought Ian came across as abrasive and obnoxious but by the end, I was rooting for him just as much as I was rooting for everyone else.

The test itself is broken into three sections: a theory test, a serving test, and a blind tasting. You can’t focus on all three sections, so which one do you choose? Before watching this movie, that’s a question that never would’ve occurred to me but I think Somm nails it. I read a comment somewhere that the film doesn’t really emphasize the importance of the serving portion. I agree but I have a potential idea as to why.

The Theory portion requires an extensive knowledge of wine. One must know the names of countless wineries and regions, historical details, and details about the creation of wine. It is however, a test. Everyone knows what tests are like and nobody likes ‘em. The rigorous study for this part is the main vehicle for coming to relate to the characters, but the theory element itself isn’t emphasized.

Unless you’ve worked in the service or food industry, the Service portion of the exam probably won’t mean much to you. We do get to see one practice test where a couple master sommeliers pose as difficult customers. “We want something between a red and a white that goes with our fish,” orders the customer, “but we want it cold. Ice cold.” The hopeful trainee gives a selection suggestion, must handle the realization that he doesn’t have that particular wine, then must quickly chill the wine. This one scene is sufficient to capture the name of the service portion of the test.

In the Tasting portion, the examinees are given three reds and three whites. They have to smell and taste each and name-say everything there is to be said about them: the alcohol level, the sweetness, the fruits and flavors incorporated into the wine, the region if not the winery, and a potential year.

The Tasting portion is a major point of interest in the film and it’s a brilliant decision. We all know wine. Many of us, I think it’s fair to say, enjoy wine. The image of a person who can taste a wine and provide incite into the elixir is one of character and class.

I can tell you a red from a white. As a slight aside, we got a bottle of five-dollar wine one night instead of the normal Three-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s. We decided that Three-Buck Chuck is just bad (but you know, you’ll have that for three dollars) and the five-dollar wine was still bad but at least it tasted like wine. It gave us the feeling that somewhere out there exists wine that actually tastes good. I’m practically a sommelier!

Anyway, with this basis, the film is able to build from a subject to which we can all (in varying levels) relate.

There was one point, however, where the film slipped a bit. During a practice tasting, the one person said a Chardonnay was some other type of white wine. The point of the scene was emphasis how he was cracking under pressure but the simplicity of his error almost undermined the difficulty of the test.

If he said a wine from Nepal was from California or a region with completely different style of wine, it would be accomplishing the same task. It would show that he was cracking while maintaining the difficulty of the test. How can this guy be an expert if can’t tell a Chardonnay from a categorically different wine?

That said it was a very brief scene that didn’t detract from the film all that much. Somm manages to navigate an esoteric subject in a compelling way. It is a beautifully crafted documentary that I highly recommend.

Please let me know what you think of my assessment and/or Somm in a comment below! Do you have a favorite wine? I think mine is Vodka…alright maybe I’m not a sommelier. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!

Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante. Written by Thunder Levin. Starring Ian Ziering (Fin Shepard), Tara Reid (April Shepard), Cassie Scerbo (Nova Clark)

Bottom line: Not as fun as the second but it was still a fun event.
1.5/4 (for the movie) -> 2.5/4 (for the event)

There isn’t too much to say about Sharknado 3. I’ll bet that you know what this movie is about. There are tornadoes and they go over the ocean and now have sharks in them.

It jumps straight into the action. The hero is named Fin Shepard (Ziering) - Get it? Fin like a shark’s fin! He is in Washington DC stopping another sharknado. By this point, his ability to stop the weather anomalies has made him a celebrity. But it soon becomes clear that what was a freak weather accident is happening more often. What is he going to do?

Made for TV movies on the SyFy Channel are infamously cheesy. You have movies about giant sharks, giant squids, giant sharks fighting giants squids. In fact, looking at IMDB, it seems like there are some thematic groupings.

You have the animal hybrids movies: Sharktopus (Shark/Octopus), its sequel Piranhaconda, and maybe Dinoshark. Then you have sharks and sharks in different locations: Sand Sharks, Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast, Swamp Shark. And then you have the much larger section of “versus” movies: Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus. Sharknado, it seems, hasn’t spawned any spin-offs but I wonder when that will happen. Might we expect a Crococane?

In any case, the movies offer cheap thrills. The first Sharknado movie was kinda fun because it was a way for the SyFy channel to say, ‘Hey, we know these movies are cheesy, and we’re going to have some fun with this one.’ The second, Sharknado 2, was a continuation in the most logical way – two sharknadoes. Where else are you supposed to go? Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! went for a bunch more sharknadoes and more celebrity cameos.

My wife and I saw the movies at the local arena. One of the local radio stations sponsored the event. There were $2 hot dogs, cheap beer, and raffles. The experience was fun and that’s really the only way to watch it; it should be playing in the background as you laugh with friends. I wouldn’t recommend this to watch independently.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Terminator Genisys

Directed by Alan Taylor. Written by Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier, James Cameron (characters), and Gale Anne Hurd (characters). Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Guardian), Jason Clarke (John Connor), Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor), Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese).

Bottom-line: If you go in with the right expectations, this new addition to the Terminator franchise is kinda fun and actually it warmed me up to the franchise as a whole.

If you’ve ever heard of Terminator you can probably guess the plot of Terminator: Genisys. In the late ‘90’s or early ‘00’s, A.I. was born - yadda yadda yadda - Mankind vs. Machines war. The machines discovered a way to time travel so they sent a robot wrapped in human skin back to kill the mother of the guy who saves Mankind from the war so he is never born. The guy’s name is John Connor and his mother’s name is Sarah. The humans followed suit and sent someone back to save her. That was the first Terminator.

In the second one, the machines sent a liquid metal robot to kill John when he was just a kid. The third one was probably the same. The fourth movie in the franchise was set during the war against the machines, and that brings us to the latest film in the franchise.

It seems like a bunch of movies this summer bank on nostalgia to draw in audiences and Terminator Genisys is no exception. The film’s introduction uses fancy graphics to explain the premise of the series. There is a battle sequence while the humans take over the Machines’ time machine and then they send Kyle Reese (Courtney) back in time. Reese’s arrival in 1984 is a reenactment of the first film up until another liquid metal terminator reveals itself. Sarah Connor comes driving in and saves the would-be hero from the future.

I can’t really go into too much detail actually without giving away major plot points but the crux of the movie comes down to the fact that by sending people to the past, it actually changes the future.

I suspect there are two reasons why people will see Terminator Genisys: Arnold and action. Arnold is getting older but the movie finds a way to work that in; the skin around the machine is human skin so it ages. Boom. Done. They also have a running line that’s kind of endearing. “Old…but not obsolete!”

The action is pretty standard. There are lots of explosions and characters are only injured when it is needed for the plot. They withstand car crashes and fist fights and explosions that would maim anyone else but when a random character shoots them in the leg, they’re incapacitated.

Much like the action, everything, be it the graphics, or the dialog, or the plot, is pretty standard. Normally I’d give this type of movie a 1.5/4 because it doesn’t really do anything that other movies can’t do better. The reason I decided on a two was because of the film’s sense of humor. It’s stuff like the ‘old but not obsolete’ line that makes this movie a fun, pleasant experience. After all, by this point in the franchise I shudder to imagine what it would look like if it took itself too seriously.

EDIT: I have half a mind to knock off half a point for the stupid spelling.