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Thread: Simple but nice film.

  1. #1
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    Simple but nice film.

    What I like about the movie?
    -- Despite being another "road trip" movie, the script was well written. One is actually keen to know how the characters will develop or how the story will end.
    -- If you like wine, you will like the movie.
    ;)

    What some people may not like ...
    -- Well, by now we know that some people are simply not into art movies.
    -- The movie gets more interesting as it proceeds, so some people might wonder where the movie is going at the beginning ...

  2. #2
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    Sideways is perhaps my favorite American film of the year. Alexander Payne is so good at walking the line between the humorous and the supremely dark, and it feels like the right mix for depicting the current American landscape.

    Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh are all well cast and give excellent performances. Church is a suprise as I hadn't seen him since his days on Wings, where he played a mechanic in a mildly funny comedy about a small town airstrip.

    Payne seems to be out there on his own stylistically and themeatically and that's what makes this one feel so good. He's doing his own thing, and he's honest and unafraid of tough subject matter - in this case, the struggles of 40-somethings to piece together a semblance of a life in the face of rejection and alcoholism. That's not a light undertaking...
    P

  3. #3
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    I'm not quite sure why this has become as great as it is to some many people. I thought it was funny, and I enjoyed it, but there was just something missing for me. Everything seemed to be there, and I laughed when I thought something was funny, but near the end of the movie I realized that there was too much that made the movie feel mellow, and things that were supposed to be funny became depressing. It reminded me a bit of the feeling in I Heart Huckabees.

    There was just something about Giamatti that didn't make sense. He started out as a liar, and a jerk who steals money from his mother. But all of a sudden he turns into a guy that doesn't like to lie, especially about his book, and is very shy. His character goes back and forth from a shy person to a guy who hits golf balls at people. And a guy who likes to buy Barely Legal.

    I don't know. I liked this movie, but I think it could have been better, although I did like Payne's directorial style.

  4. #4
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    It's okay, guys, the steamroller is already running

    There's something about overhyping that makes you want to totally turn against a movie as a corrective, but I'll stick by what I said all along. I was glad to find much to like in in both Payne's and Anderson's latest work -- I know they're reigning American auteurs, and I basically didn't respond well to Tennenbaums or Schmidt. Happily, I could see much of value in Sideways -- but was far happier with the more genial and richer experience provided by The Life Aquatic.

    Sideways is specific enough in its social and politcal observation and as hengcs says its main characters are intense enough to keep you watching to see what becomes of them. But what Rosenbaum wrote is also true: Payne and his source (apparently) say nothing new about male mid-life crises or about that part of California. It's sit-com stuff. That's the genre, and it's one that makes it hard to avoid feeling a sense of déja vu.

    Fan of Kubrick has a good point that nobody else has made so far about the variability in Giamatti's character: Payne wants us to see what a rotter Miles is and yet asks for our sympathies for him too, a treatment that wavors between complexity and mere inconsistency.

    Sideways is one of the year's better American movies, but it's gotten more than it deserves in the nominations for best direction and best picture. I'd have chosen Giamatti over Church for an acting nomination: he's produced a body of terrific work and is a screen actor who gets the precise effect he needs every time. Of the best picture Oscar nominations, I might rate Sideways over Ray, but it's put it well below Aviator, Finding Neverland, and Million Dollar Baby.

    Welcome to Fan of Kubrick. It's good to have another independent voice.

  5. #5
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    Re: It's okay, guys, the steamroller is already running

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Fan of Kubrick has a good point that nobody else has made so far about the variability in Giamatti's character: Payne wants us to see what a rotter Miles is and yet asks for our sympathies for him too, a treatment that wavors between complexity and mere inconsistency.
    I thought I had made this point somewhere. This is Payne in his element; it's probably his most unique attribute as a director and screenwriter, shining a light on both the "complexities and inconsistencies" of human behavior in modern American society.

    I would argue, however, that Payne isn't "asking for our sympathies" in this film. As in his previous films, "Election" in particular, he sets out to tell a story in a very straight-forward manner. He doesn't judge his characters, he leaves it up to us to formulate our own opinions. Thus, his films can perhaps come across as overly dry, and some people, frankly, might not "get it" because they're not told explicitly what to think or feel.

    I also think that it was his intention that "things that were supposed to be funny became depressing". He's a modern day Billy Wilder in a way, combining humor with a bitter-sweet, slightly cynical view of the world.

    So, I'm going to continue to stick up for this film, and I hope it wins Best Picture. I think the recent backlash is undeserved, and this film gets my vote for best American film of 2004. Comparing it to a sit-com is a joke, and it's a shame Giamatti wasn't nominated for Best Actor.

  6. #6
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    I'm going to have to disagree with you. You make a good argument, but I think that Payne is trying to make us sympathize wiith Giamatti. The way the character is portrayed gives a feeling of lonliness and depression that, to me, seemed to spread to the audience.

    This was a very straightforward film, which meant that there was nothing deeper than the outer level, which is what everybody saw. Chris has said this also, that there is nothing more you can gain after you see it once. It is flat, and the only way to make it appear differently is to have Giamatti's character recieve sympathy from the audience. But when Payne asks for the sympathy, he is also changing Giamatti's charcter completely from what we saw in the very first 5 minutes of the film.

    Like I said, I enjoyed this film, but if it wins best picture I will be very dissapointed with the academy. I have nothing against it but it is definately not as good as all the critics seemed to spew everywhere.

  7. #7
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    (JustaFied wrote:) This is Payne in his element; it's probably his most unique attribute as a director and screenwriter, shining a light on both the "complexities and inconsistencies" of human behavior in modern American society.

    There's some confusion in what we're talking about here. I was drawing a contrast between complexity and inconsistency -- complexity of characterization vs. inconsistency of writing. As Fan of Kubrick says, Payne's approach is simple, and there's no hint of depth beyond what we see. Miles's behavior is consistently lazy and petty and weak. In offering him hope of a lovely woman in his life it's Payne who's being inconsistent, not Miles. I don't see Payne as being neutral but as being manipulative in an unconvincing way. It seems like Payne wants to have his cynical cake and eat his humane forgiveness off the same plate, and it doesn't work for me; it worked better this time than it did in About Schmidt, perhaps because Church's character takes some of the attention away from Giamatti's and because the women are not objects of ridicule like the families in About Schmidt, so there's less mean spiritedness in the "neutrality" of Payne's pose.

  8. #8
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    Allright, we're going in circles here to some extent. I don't agree that Payne (and his co-writer Jim Taylor) were being "inconsistent" in writing their complex characters. We don't know for certain that everything works out in the end for Miles. Yes, he's flawed, but who of us isn't? He does have some positive attributes, and I think that's what Maya sees in him. Plus, they've both been through rough times, they have common interests, and so they have some feelings of attraction to each other. Beats being alone. We don't know that they'll stay together forever.

    I strongly disagree that "Payne's approach is simple, and there's no hint of depth beyond what we see". Payne's trademark, in my opinion, is creating real characters with "depth" that's hinted at but not always overtly stated. For instance, it's not until near the end of the film that we learn that Miles and Jack are friends because they were freshman year roommates at San Diego State. That in itself speaks volumes about these characters and makes the storyline richer. Should I elaborate?

    Manolha Dargis' review in NYT is dead-on perfect, and I like her speculation on possible sources of the backlash against Payne and his films:"In the past, Mr. Payne's critics have accused him of treating his characters with condescension, a puzzling assessment in light of the love he expresses for the comically blighted souls in ''Election'' and ''About Schmidt.'' It's hard to understand the genesis of this discomfort; only that, like ''Sideways,'' these films cut close to the emotional bone and even movie critics can get squirmy when the screen turns into a mirror. "

    Exactly. Perhaps the requirements of self-reflection are difficult for those used to the well-honed art of detached observation.

  9. #9
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    Perhaps we must agree to disagree. I'm afraid I just don't see the complexity you attribute to these characters. Their meeting as freshman roommates is no rich backstory, only the most conventional way of meeting, and the relationship has not grown, because they have little in common. This is an odd example to give, because Miles uses it as an excuse to show how superficial their relationship is. He's not really important to me, Miles is saying there, he's only my freshman roommate. Should you elaborate? I don't know; can you?

    I like Manohla's writing, but I don't buy that Miles is a mirror for me, or for her, or for Alexander Payne. "The love he expresses for the comically blighted souls" is from on high.

  10. #10
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    Ok, we can agree to disagree, but I will elaborate on a couple of examples. They may be rather random examples from the film, but I wouldn't call them "odd". Theyre the sorts of things Payne throws in to his scripts that add texture or "complexity" to his characters and stories.

    Freshman year roommate at San Diego State. What does this one phrase tell me about these characters? Miles, for all his pretension, for all his pedantic postering, is an alumnus of San Diego State. I don't mean to sound snobbish, but it's no Stanford or Berkeley or even UCSD. How did he end up there? Perhaps Miles isn't quite as brilliant as he makes himself out to be, perhaps this is part of his frustration in life. Miles, like Matthew Broderick's Omaha-based character in Election is smart, educated and thoughtful but is perhaps not quite smart enough to have ever escaped the trappings of his own home town. And why has he stayed friends with Jack all these years, when they ostensibly have little in common? I think this alludes to the strange bond of friendship many people have (myself included) with their roommates from college, where life is instantly awash with new experiences and ideas and sex and alcohol and drugs and no parents. I'm glad Payne's added this little detail to let us speculate on the background of these characters. And, as Dargas points out, "It's clear that Miles, who shares Apollo's sense of order and reason, also secretly admires the wildness and chaos embodied by the Dionysus riding shotgun in his car."

    We can also speculate on Stephanie's family situation. She has a black daughter and a white mother, yet no details are given about her background. Her mother has the haggard look of an ex-hippie. Stephanie was probably adopted, was her daughter adopted as well, or was she the product of a failed relationship? We're not told, partly because explaining the details of this diverse family isn't really necessary anymore. This is life in modern America, this is California.

    Allright, disagree if you want. I'm still a huge fan of Payne, and I look forward to more films from this young (40 something?) director. Perhaps those who consider his films to be "flat" can't get over how his films sometimes refuse to provide an easy emotional directive. More words from Dargas: "The larger problem, I think, is that since the late 1970's we have been under the spell of the blockbuster imperative, with its infallible heroes and comic-book morality, a spell that independent film has done little to break. In this light, the emergence of Mr. Payne into the front ranks of American filmmakers isn't just cause for celebration; it's a reason for hope."

  11. #11
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    This is an odd example to give, because Miles uses it as an excuse to show how superficial their relationship is. He's not really important to me, Miles is saying there, he's only my freshman roommate.
    One last modified comment for now. If he had simply said, "I am not Jack". She would have immediately asked what he was doing with Jack. I think his point here was to tell her that they had a long, complex, somewhat tenuous friendship, stemming from being college roommates. He didn't just meet Jack in a bar the week before and decide to go for a romp in the wine country.
    Last edited by JustaFied; 01-31-2005 at 07:54 AM.

  12. #12
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    Somebody said this was a "simple but nice film".

    Everything you say is perfectly true and I enjoyed reading your discussion. I want to say again that I find Sideways much warmer and more entertaining than About Schmidt, which upset me with the meanness of its satire: I couldn't enjoy it, it set off on the wrong foot. Sideways seems to try to damn Miles at the start with his self indulgent, lying morning and his pilfering from his mom's cash stash, but it keeps us watching him with the odd relationship and the wine stuff, and so we stay hopeful for him.

    San Diego State. Well, I would have been nonplussed if we were told he went to Stanford or Berkeley. I figured someplace like San Diego State, especially if Jack and he were roommates in some college. And rather than a complex kind of relationship, though its a nicer provenance than meeting in a bar, it's usually a rather static one. It's true, his telling her this fact at that point in the movie is as you say both a defense of himself and a justification of the relationship, but it doesn't imply a complex relationship.

    As I said, I like Manohla Dargis, or at least I think I do. But I don't know what she's talking about when she says we need to rejoice over Sideways. I guess because it's a critical success that, she thinks, will influence the big bucks producers to dump blockbusters in favor of little satiric comedies? The system is not broken in this way. And there are more subtle and more truly adventuruous and individual American directors working today. From my 2004 lists, I'd cite David Gordon Green. The new Nicole Kassell is promising. I like Jared Hess. And I am growing to like Wes Anderson, even though his fans on this site appear to have been unpleased by The Life Aquatic.

  13. #13
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    For what it's worth:

    That movie was terrible. It went nowhere quick. As it came to a conclusion, all I could think to myself was: "Of course; Sideways. The writer is having a laugh at our expense. Sideways."

    I'd like to log a vote with whoever keeps track of these things for most over-rated film of '04.

  14. #14
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    "Terrible," might be a little harsh, but I agree that Sideways was the most overrated film of 2004.

  15. #15
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    As it came to a conclusion, all I could think to myself was: "Of course; Sideways. The writer is having a laugh at our expense. Sideways."

    I'd like to log a vote with whoever keeps track of these things for most over-rated film of '04.


    The idea of Payne's having a laugh at our expense is an interesting angle to me. While I think he runs successfully with the material, it remains somewhat a mystery to me why this movie is rated so highly by so many. It already has my "most overrated" vote. But like arsaib4, I will not ever say it's "terrible."

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