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Alexander Payne
Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht, Missy Doty, M.C. Gainey, Alysia Reiner
Writing Credits:
Rex Pickett (novel), Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

In search of wine. In search of women. In search of themselves.

In this intoxicating, intelligent comedy, director Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt) serves up "one of the best movies of the year" (Entertainment Weekly) about the ups, downs and sideways journeys of life.

A wine-tasting road trip through California's famed Central Coast takes an unexpected detour as Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) hit the gas en route to their mid-life crisis. The comically mismatched pair soon find themselves drowning in wine, women ... and laughter!

Box Office:
$16 million.
Opening Weekend
$207.042 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$66.186 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 4/5/2005

• Audio Commentary with Actors Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church
• 7 Deleted Scenes
• Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Sideways (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 10, 2005)

I saw Sideways as part of a second date. This occurred a couple of weeks before the 2005 Oscar ceremony, and I told my date I wanted to check it out since it received a nomination for Best Picture. In fact, I repeated this about five times before we went to the theater.

After the flick ended, I asked her what she thought of the film. She made a couple of vague comments about how it was occasionally funny but not much more than that; clearly she wasnít impressed. Since I really enjoyed Sideways, I was a little irked by her dismissal of it, so I noted that plenty of folks must have liked it since it received the Best Picture nod.

At that point, she began to laugh hysterically. She reacted to this information as though sheíd never heard it before - never mind that Iíd stated it so many times earlier in the night. She couldnít get over the concept that a film she interpreted as meaningless fluff received such high praise. She even stated that she liked Meet the Fockers - one of the biggest wastes of talent ever committed to film - more than Sideways.

There was no third date.

Sad-sack middle-aged middle school teacher Miles (Paul Giamatti) never got over his divorce to Victoria (Jessica Hecht) two years earlier. He poured his energy into a combination of booze and writing, as he aspires to become a published novelist. The latter looks like it might come true, as he awaits word from his agent.

While he dangles, Miles takes his old college pal Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a week-long trip as a pre-wedding gift. They head to Californiaís Santa Ynez Valley, where Miles anticipates a leisurely week of wine-tasting and golf. However, Jack has other ideas, as he mainly looks forward to one last carnal hurrah before he finally ties the knot.

Both men meet women who change things. Jack encounters vineyard employee Stephanie (Sandra Oh) and immediately falls for the wild single mother. Miles already knows recently-divorced waitress Maya (Virginia Madsen), but with Jackís prodding, the pair become much more intimate. The film follows their various adventures and the development of the relationships.

Iíll admit that I didnít really look forward to seeing Sideways. I didnít know a whole lot about it, and I thought itíd probably be some art house nonsense. I got the impression itíd be some dull character study with little going for it besides its own pretensions.

Boy, was I wrong. Some try to pigeonhole Sideways as a comedy, but they badly miss the point. Lots of movies combine laughs and drama, but few do so as well as this flick. It handles goofy farce and poignant emotion equally well. It starts as a broad character comedy but slowly narrows its focus to get into the personalities with greater nuance. By the end of it, Miles has gone from a geeky semi-Felix Unger to a full-blooded person.

Case in point: a scene toward the end that takes place at Jackís wedding. (Skip ahead now if you want to avoid a potential spoiler.) Miles decides to chat with ex-wife Victoria and puts on as happy a face as possible. She delivers a shock to him when she notes that sheís pregnant. Giamatti handles the sequence with heartbreaking delicacy and realism. He makes sure that he holds in his feelings, but he ever-so-gently lets us know his true emotions.

Many felt that Giamatti got shafted when he failed to receive an Oscar nomination, and Iíd agree. Heís the best thing about Sideways, as he ensures that the movie never turns into caricatured silliness. Sure, the movie packs a lot of outrageous scenes, and many laughs come along with that. But it never becomes absurd or unrealistic. Reality gets stretched but not broken, and the movieís basic humanity allows it to prosper.

ĒHumanĒ is the main term that I think best describes Sideways. After I saw the flick, I perused a movie forum I like. One person there stated that he regarded everyone in the film as ďvile and horribleĒ and indicated that he hated all of them! I wondered if heíd seen the same film.

For one, I donít see how anyone could view Maya in that light. Sheís clearly the most sane and rational character. Stephanieís a wildcat and perhaps not always the greatest role model for her kid, but she also seems to be a generally nice person.

The lead males create a more complicated case. Both have definite flaws. Miles is essentially an alcoholic, and Jack doesnít seem to take his promises to his fiancťe very seriously, as he risks his relationship with her to get some nookie.

But who says that characters have to be virtuous and noble to still be decent people? For all their issues, I donít see Jack or Miles as bad folks. Yeah, itís harder to make a case for the selfish and impulsive Jack as a good guy, but the movie shows his many positives as well. Miles may be pathetic, but I canít understand why anyone would hate him.

Opinions of Sideways definitely tend to fall along gender-specific lines. In general, men like the flick, women donít. Iím sure some females out there do enjoy the movie, but Iíve yet to encounter one. Frankly, I donít get it. The movie paints the women as the more stable and admirable characters and makes out the guys to be deeply flawed.

Some of the complaints stem from the alleged lack of believability: why would two good-looking women like Maya and Stephanie go for lugs like Miles and Jack? These criticisms donít fly. For one, Church isnít an unattractive guy. Heís not aged especially well, but it wasnít long ago that my extremely superficial gay friend wanted to jump Church, so he must have some physical appeal.

As for Giamatti, I canít deny heís not your typical Hollywood leading man. Actually, I was shocked when I found out he and I are the same age. To me, he looks much older than 37 - I canít believe he and I could have been high school classmates.

But a lack of physical charms doesnít mean someone like Miles couldnít land a woman like Maya. For one, sheís not that hot. Itís not like he wound up with a 22-year-old babe like Natalie Portman or whoever. Madsenís attractive but not unrealistically so. In addition, there are plenty of cases where dumpy guys have ended up with gorgeous women, and since Miles and Maya hit it off on a very personal level, itís totally believable.

The same goes for Sideways as a whole. Despite some scenes that veer toward comic farce, the flick remains firmly grounded in reality, and it presents a deep and rich character study. It also packs a punch, with an emotional impact that puts the cheesy melodrama of Million Dollar Baby to shame. I donít know if it was the best movie of 2004, but it was definitely the strongest flick among the Best Picture nominees.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Sideways appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite some ups and downs, the transfer wound up as generally positive.

Sharpness lacked consistency. A mix of slightly soft shots popped up throughout the movie. Some of these were intentional - like the out of focus ďdrunk MilesĒ bits - but since most of the flick was accurately defined, I couldnít always establish a sensible pattern for the less detailed images. That meant that although the majority of the elements looked fine, a few presented an odd mushiness.

Some of that may have stemmed from the mild edge enhancement I saw at times. No issues with moirť effects or jagged edges occurred, though. Print flaws were a very minor intrusion. A couple of specks cropped up and that was all. Otherwise this remained a clean presentation, though it looked a bit grainier than usual.

As for the palette of Sideways, it tended toward the more subdued side of natural. In general, the movie favored a diffuse, blown-out look, and the colors represented that. They were satisfying within the visual design and always appeared well-rendered given those constraints. This affected the blacks as well; they became a little pale, but perfectly acceptable based on the photographic designs. I thought shadows tended to look a little dense, though, as some of the low-light shots were slightly opaque. Nonetheless, much of the film offered a very good image, and it generally reproduced what I saw theatrically.

No one should expect a slam-bang auditory experience from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Sideways. Nor should anyone want that, as a visceral mix would be totally out of place for this quiet, chatty flick. The soundfield stayed within the subdued confines I anticipated. Except for the gentle spread of the score to the sides, much of the mix remained essentially monaural. One scene offered some dialogue from the left front channel, and quiet ambience created a decent sense of atmosphere.

Nothing showy ever occurred. The most involving segment came from the crowd at the Frass Canyon winery, and a thunderstorm provided some minor activity. Those created a smidgen of material from the surrounds, but otherwise I felt virtually unaware of any material from the rear. I suppose those channels probably lightly supported the music and environmental information, but I felt the audio remained heavily focused on the front.

I heard no real issues with sound quality. A couple of louder lines displayed minor edginess. However, a majority of the dialogue sounded crisp and well-delineated, even if I thought the al fresco fight between Miles and Maya featured badly looped lines; they simply didnít appear to come from a natural setting, and that made them a distraction.

As noted, music and effects remained subdued throughout the film. There was absolutely nothing to tax my system, but I also noticed no problems. The score was smooth and concise, with reasonable low-end reinforcement. The minor effects sounded clean and distinctive. Frankly, there just wasnít enough information on display for the soundtrack of Sideways to merit a grade above a ďB-ď, but I canít complain, as the mix suited the film.

Despite the movieís prominence, the DVD doesnít toss in a lot of extras. The primary attraction comes from an audio commentary with actors Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Both men sit together for this running, screen-specific track. A chatty affair, the actors keep things entertaining, even though they donít provide a lot of compelling data.

Much of the time, the pair simply crack on the way they look in the flick. They also toss out quite a lot of praise for various elements of the production. Some useful notes appear, however, as they occasionally get into their approaches to the role, improvisation, character topics, locations, the movieís visual style, and cut sequences. They do all this with a lot of humor, and that helps make the more tedious parts interesting. This doesnít ever threaten to turn into a great commentary, and it lacks a lot of depth, but itís a fun ride.

Why didnít director Alexander Payne contribute a commentary? I donít know, but it appears he doesnít like to chat about his films for DVDs. While he did commentaries for his first two movies - Election and Citizen Ruth - he skipped them for Sideways and its predecessor, About Schmidt.

Next we find seven deleted scenes. These run a total of 17 minutes, 12 seconds, and come with text introductions from Payne. Donít expect a lot of original material here. Between the slow-crawling text from Payne and the inclusion of actual movie material to set up the new bits, only a little of this areaís 17 minutes actually shows new footage. None of what we see seems memorable. I actively disliked the scenes connected to Miles running into a dog, and the others failed to make an impact.

In addition to the movieís much too revealing trailer, we get a six and a half minute behind the scenes featurette. It includes the usual array of movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and remarks. We hear from Payne, Giamatti, Church, and actors Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen. They mostly regurgitate story and character notes along with a few minor insights into the interaction among the cast and director. This is little more than the standard promotional piece with few redeeming factors.

Sideways veers from wild comedy to quirky characters to violence to simple interpersonal moments and manages to do so with remarkable ease. This makes the film wholly involving and moving, as it creates a world with flawed but consistently intriguing personalities. The DVD offers perfectly acceptable picture and audio. Unfortunately, it skimps on extras. Arguably the best movie of 2004, Sideways lays off the histrionics and melodrama to create an emotional and indelible experience.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2222 Stars Number of Votes: 72
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