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Bonus Points: DVD Reviews

'Sideways': A Bit of a Buzz Kill

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005;

"Sideways" (R; List price: $29.98
Release Date: April 5

The parade of Oscar movies on DVD continues with next Tuesday's release of "Sideways," director Alexander Payne's wine-country buddy comedy about two middle-aged men sorting out their personal lives while consuming large quantities of pinot noir. Every movie fan seems to take a different side in the "Sideways" debate. Some see this Best Picture nominee as an overrated look at two alcoholic, reprehensible human beings. Others toast it as one of 2004's finest films, filled with carefully calibrated performances and real, poignant details.

Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church belly up to the wine bar in "Sideways." (Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Either way, "Sideways" certainly merits at least one viewing, if only so you can finally voice an opinion about it during your next wine and cheese party. (For the record, I think it's a terrific movie, though not quite as emotionally resonant as Payne's "About Schmidt.")

The sunshine of Santa Barbara County, where much of "Sideways" is set, looks decent on DVD, but not as eye-popping as one would hope. In fact, the visual transfer appears noticeably grainy in sections, though it's difficult to tell if that's an incidental or intentional flaw given Payne's desire to replicate the feel of movies from the 1970s.

But the biggest disappointment about this DVD is its lack of extras. Given all the hype surrounding this vino-soaked tale, I had expected to drown in special features. Instead, the single disc contains a few deleted scenes, a making-of doc taken straight from the electronic press kit, a trailer and an audio commentary by stars Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Three Easter eggs also are nestled in there somewhere, though I haven't successfully uncovered them yet.

Fox Home Entertainment clearly has wasted an opportunity to do something really special with this release. Why not include a feature about some of the Santa Ynez Valley spots that the characters Miles (Giamatti) and Jack (Haden Church) visit? Or some outtakes? Or a second commentary by Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor?

Perhaps they're saving all of that for a subsequent special edition. In which case, pour yourself a glass of red wine and enjoy the film, the few deleted scenes and the entertaining Giamatti/Hayden Church commentary. Then hope we'll soon hear through the grapevine that a better vintage of "Sideways" is coming soon.

Most Informative Bonus Point: Even Payne admits in an introductory note that the DVD's seven deleted scenes are "meager offerings." Still, they're presented in an enlightening format, each preceded by an explanation written by Payne that describes why it was cut. The funniest of the lot? Scene 96, in which Miles accidentally hits a dog while driving home from a golf game. Deceased canines aren't necessarily a laughing matter but the look on Giamatti's face certainly is.

Most Entertaining Bonus Point: At the beginning of the audio commentary, Haden Church tells viewers to expect "sidebars of hilarity and poignance." That's a pretty accurate description of the litany of observations unleashed by co-stars Haden Church and Giamatti, who don't offer earth-shattering insights into the film-making process but still infuse the track with an amusing, engaging sense of warmth. Whether they're swapping stories about getting food poisoning after the meal at Miles's mother's house or comparing the plot of "Sideways" with a western, even their pointless rambling makes for a fun listen. Besides, what's not to love about a commentary track in which an actor (in this case Haden Church) compares his own backside to a pair of "dueling pillowcases full of milk"?

On DVD This Week : Another Oscar contender, "Vera Drake" debuts March 29 in a single-disc edition with no extras.

Coming in Next Week's "Bonus Points": A review of "Hotel Rwanda," due on DVD April 12.

If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

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