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SIDEWAYS

Region 2 Edition

Director Alexander Payne

Featuring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh

THE FILM

Alexander Payne has found a distinctive voice with his last couple of movies (the acerbic Election and the bittersweet About Schmidt). It's further defined in his latest film, Sideways, which tells the story of two middle-aged college buddies (American Splendor's Giamatti and - err - George of the Jungle's Haden Church), embarking on a last journey together - touring the vineyards of the Central Coast area of California - before one of them ties the knot. Haden Church's character, a fading soap actor, is a hound-dog, taking advantage of the trip to sample the local wines and women. Giamatti, an aspiring author at the tail end of a rough relationship break-up, is indulging his connoisseur's passion for wine, and enjoying the company. They encounter two women, both of whom seem well-matched to our travellers: Virginia Madsen, pulling her career out of an undeserved rut as an oenophile soul-mate for Giamatti's character, and Sandra Oh, former spouse of the director, as the woman who Haden Church's character falls in lust with.

The film is charming, a gentle comedy demonstrating Payne's characteristic sharpness, and flair for character. It will, no doubt, have resonance for many men entering middle-age, and wondering whether the best years of their lives are behind them.

THE DVD

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment's disc opens with the usual assorted clutter (FACT copyright warnings, a generic DVD trailer promoting the studio's 70th anniversary, an advert for the Arrested Development set (which seems to have faulty audio), trailers for House of Flying Daggers, Kinsey, Kingdom of Heaven and Maltesers adverts). Some of these seem to be presented in the wrong aspect ratio, possibly as the result of incorrect flagging. Most of these can be quickly skipped, if desired. This leads to a simple set of menu screens, offering the usual options, as well as an Inside Look button, which leads to the Kingdom of Heaven trailer (it seems to be the same as the one in the pre-show trailer fest, only in the right ratio this time).

The film itself is presented in 1.86:1 ratio, with anamorphic enhancement. The majority of the film is shot in bright sunlight, and it looks very naturalistic. Payne comments that he was looking for a 70s feeling, and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael evidently obliged (it even has a split-screen sequence at one point!) There's some light film grain evident, but no more than there ought to be. Contrast range is excellent, and the colour balance seems accurate. The film seems slightly soft, but that may be deliberate. From time to time there's a shot where some edge-enhancement is visible, but you'd have to be very picky indeed to say it was a distraction. The average bit-rate is a reasonably healthy 5.67Mb/sec.

There are optional English HoH subtitles, and subtitles for the commentary track. These have not been Anglicised ("color", "humor", "favorite", etc). There's some minor paraphrasing during the film, but the subtitles catch just about everything in the commentary track.

There are several captions during the film. There are captions marking the passage of time ("Saturday", etc), and captions establishing a new location ("Santa Barbara County, California", for example). Neither type is player-generated, and should be the same as they were in the film's theatrical presentation.

The film is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (at 448kbps). It's a simple mix, with most (if not all) of the dialogue locked to the centre, the music spilling to the sides (very effectively), and ambient sound from the rear channels. Fidelity is very good, and the music very nicely recorded.

THE BONUS MATERIAL

Somewhat surprisingly, the commentary track on the disc isn't by the director (who did a rather good job with the one on Election, if memory serves). Instead the track pairs stars Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, who promises "sidebars of hilarity and poignancy". It's a very breezy track. The actors have an obvious rapport, and talk effortlessly for the entire duration of the film, offering trivia tid-bits and observations, and generally amuse and tease each other about little things they've noticed about each other's performances. You won't learn an awful lot, but you will feel like you've spent some entertaining time in their company.

Payne is present on the Behind-The-Scenes Featurette (7m), which is a notch above the usual promotional featurette. It features interviews with all the key cast members, further defining the characters, and their motivations. The cast members express their admiration for each other, and for their director. It's disappointingly short, but adequately conveys what a great time the cast and crew had making the film.

There are seven (extended and) Deleted Scenes, mostly from the middle and last third of the film. These can be viewed separately, or there's a Play All option, which leads into a couple of pages of notes by Payne about why the deleted scenes were removed from the film, and about the "sceenings" (oops!) that honed the film's rhythm. He notes that some scenes from the beginning of the film were quickly excised from the lengthy script, but do not appear on the disc because they were abandoned before they were even edited together. What remains are "meagre offerings", which total about ten minutes. Each scene is introduced by a specific note by Payne, and bracketed by footage from the finished film, to put them in context for the viewer. A pair of these scenes concerns Miles hitting a dog in his car. It's pay-off, shown here, exhibits a streak of black humour that's not so evident in Sideways as it is in his earlier movies. These are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen format, and are generally in good condition.

Finally, there's at least one Easter Egg (click and drag to reveal): a photo' montage, set to music from the film (3m).You can find this on the scenes 13-16 selection menu.

SUMMARY

The film is terrific, and one that will age like a good wine. The presentation is unremarkable, but entirely serviceable. The supplements are limited in range. The Featurette is rather fluffy, but the commentary is worthwhile, and the deleted scenes reveal much about the editing process, as well as adding a few nice character moments that will add to the viewer's appreciation of the film.

The disc's content is broadly similar to the US version, which features less promotional bumph. The US disc has two redundant (non-English) audio tracks, though, so the space allocated to the film is probably comparable. The US disc features a trailer for the film, but otherwise the two discs are virtually identical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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