Sales of pinot noir skyrocketed after last year’s release of “Sideways,” because at one point Miles (Paul Giamatti) explains to Maya (Virginia Madsen) about that particular wine’s complexity, and how it needs to be cared for and understood, and I think wine lovers everywhere can appreciate that.
The same can be said of this picture, an Academy Award nominee and one of the best American comedies produced in recent memory. The two buddies, Miles and Jack (an uproariously funny Thomas Haden Church), have serious flaws to be sure. But they’re so well drawn, so vulnerable and dumb and infuriating and fascinating at the same time, that it’s almost impossible not to be pulled in to their respective predicaments and watch with great interest.
Director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor have collaborated on some of independent cinema’s most unique works, like “Citizen Ruth,” “Election” and “About Schmidt.” But this is their best effort yet. Based on a novel by Rex Pickett, it tells the story of two buddies, one a failed novelist and another a goofy tomcat facing the prospect of married life, as they have one last bonding trip in the wine country near Santa Barbara before the nuptials.
The cast is spectacularly good. Giamatti got robbed by not receiving an Academy Award nomination. Haden Church and Madsen did, and rightfully so. And Sandra Oh is excellent as Jack’s temporary object of desire.
“Sideways” is out now on DVD. The film itself is superb and this would be worth having for that alone. The special features, however, are a mixed bag.
Among the highlights is a commentary with Giamatti and Haden Church that is a riot. They crack each other up, and they’ll have you in stitches, too. Both are very likeable guys with sharp wits. They spend more time cutting up than they do explaining the nuts and bolts of shooting the movie, but that’s acceptable given their appeal. And they make up for the fact that there is no commentary by Payne, a real drawback.
There is a making-of featurette, which is fairly standard. There is a self-congratulatory element to these DVD pieces nowadays that sometimes gets annoying. Everybody involved compliments everybody else involved. Meanwhile, there is a lack of hard information about the making of the movie, like the development of the script from the source material, or the problems shooting in particular places, or the reactions the filmmakers, cast and crew received from folks on location, etc. “Making of” has somehow transformed into an exercise in cheerleading rather than an informative look at the filmmaking process.
Unexpectedly, the deleted scenes section is superb, because it provides the most insight from the director. Payne describes each scene on a notecard, detailing the thinking behind it, its evolution in the making of the picture, and the reasons why it was cut out. It’s too bad he couldn’t provide more of those observations for the entire movie.
Still, the extras do suffice, since “Sideways” itself is a bottle of heaven to savor.
Fox Home Entertainment, $29.98
“May the Schwartz be with you.”
The “Schwartz” in this case is Mel Brooks’ version of “The Force,” and deciding which you would rather have with you depends on what type of mood you’re in. With the new “Star Wars” release just around the corner — and many geeks already lined up around some corners to see it — it’s worth diving into Brooks’ alternate universe in the sci-fi genre in search of a few chuckles.
“Spaceballs” is a send-up of “Star Wars,” with other influences thrown in. It follows the adventures of Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) as they fight against the evil presence of Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis). There are inspired comic turns by the late John Candy as Barf, Dick Van Patten as King Roland, Joan Rivers as the voice of Dot Matrix and Brooks himself as President Skroob and Yogurt.
But for all the effort here, the result is only partly successful. There are scattered laughs, but the premise doesn’t pull together nearly as well as some of Brooks’ most revered works of wackiness like “The Producers,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles.” The film wasn’t received upon its release in 1987 with the same gusto as Brooks’ other films, partly because the original “Star Wars” came out 10 years earlier and it had already been discussed ad nauseum, picked apart and parodied in some circles.
Oddly enough, while “Spaceballs” doesn’t measure up to Brooks’ finest, the new collector’s edition two-disc DVD set is excellent. There are gobs of extras, and just about all of them are of high quality. There appears to have been almost as much thought put into the DVD features as the movie itself, only with better results.
The obligatory making-of featurette is comprehensive and talks about the actual making-of rather than just providing a session for the participants to gush about each other. Just about everybody with a vital contribution is represented and discussed, and it’s all informative and interesting.
There are several other extras worth noting, but particularly the tribute to Candy, which includes memories of his days with “SCTV,” and a conversation with Brooks and co-writer Thomas Meehan that provides lots of insight into the development of the “Spaceballs” script and movie.
If you want Brooks at his best, there is no better film than “Young Frankenstein.” But if you’re an ardent fan and are willing to overlook some comic warts, “Spaceballs” will at least provide you with some mild amusement.
MGM Home Entertainment, $29.98