Sideways (2004)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Paul giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Trailer

Alexander Payne, the director of films such as "About Schmidt" takes us on another little road trip, filled with comic moments of the subtle kind. "Sideways" is the story of two friends taking a week off before one of them is to be married the coming weekend. And so a trip to California’s wine-country turns into a major detour as the friends each face their mid-life crises and each of them deals with it in his own way. One by turning into a gloomy, disgruntled complainer, the other by entering complete denial and letting go of his reigns altogether, turning his last bachelor days into an orgiastic, frivolous experience. But the friends are still bound together and somehow have to deal with their issues before the trip takes them back home.

As with "About Schmidt" "Sideways" is not an all out comedy. It is more a social commentary that shows us how absurd we sometimes are as people. Funny moments come from within ourselves, our strengths, our weaknesses and our desire to simply break-out of the routine.

Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church play the leads in this intelligent comedy as we follow their wine tasting excursion, and the two couldn’t have been cast any better. Both nail their characters so fabulously that you never doubt their motivations and incentives, no matter how outrageous or hapless their behavior may be at any given time, and I am sure we all have acquaintances that squarely fit into these types we see in the film one way or another. It lends credibility to the film that combined with the fact that comedy is never overt and played-for-laughs gives the film a cache that sets it apart from your everyday comedy romp.
Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh also make great impressions with some remarkably powerful scenes sprinkled throughput the film.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is presenting the movie on this DVD in its original <$PS,widescreen> presentation in a 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer that is free of any blemishes or defects. A <$PS,fullscreen> version of the film is sold separately. I haven’t seen it but would suspect it may be an open-matte transfer, actually. Sparkling clean and stable, the transfer also features an incredible level of detail that brings out every tiny bit of texture, hue and definition. Colors are vibrant and lively at all times and the film’s black level is perfectly balanced to create a dark, deep shadows that never break up. Highlights are equally balanced and never bleed. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts mar the picture making this a wonderful presentation all around.

The audio on the release comes as a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track that is complemented by <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks in French and Spanish, complete with optional subtitles in each language. The audio presentation is balanced and makes for a natural-sounding presentation. Bass extension is good but unexaggerated, simply perfect for a film of this type as it never draws attention to itself. Dialogues are perfectly integrated, naturally sounding and never drowned out by sound effects or the music. No distortion or sibilance is evident either, adding further to the absolutely natural-sounding appeal of the track.

A <$commentary,commentary track> with actors Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church is included on the release as they share their experience of working on this film. It is a great commentary full of wit, insight, funny moments and a lot of information as to what was going on on the set and behind the scenes.
Also included are seven deleted scenes, most of them of very high quality, I found. Rounded out by a promo featurette and trailers, the DVD leaves a solid and well-rounded impression.

"Sideways" has been hailed one of the best comedies of last year on many occasions. It has been applauded, acclaimed and showered in nominations and awards and I was truly eager to see it. I was not disappointed. I do enjoy Alexander Payne’s subtle and intelligent style in which character portraits bring out the quirks in all of us and to bring them out in the open so carefully that we can laugh about them, ultimately realizing that we are, in fact, laughing about ourselves. It is a very carefully crafted amusement as opposed to the all-out gross-out comedy scene found in the mainstream these days. It makes films like "Sideways" so much more charming and enjoyable as it proves that a good funny film doesn’t have to be dumb. Great stuff for all of you who don’t mind thinking a bit while enjoying a movie.