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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

entry arrow4:28 PM | From Sideways

The other year, the critical darling of the movie set had been Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, which had left me surprisingly cold despite the warm praises it garnered. Last year, the same thing happened, this time with Michael Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which had most of my friends raving ecstatically, while I couldn't help but tell myself, "This movie could need some better lighting design." Did that make me a cinematically shallow man? But I had enjoyed Gondry's quirky Human Nature, and I get tickled by Charles Kauffman's brilliant screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. (Maybe I was just hoping Spike Jonze had first dibs on this one as well?)

Which brings me to Alexander Payne's Sideways. All its universal praise had me rattled. Will I, too, hate this movie? Payne had been a remarkable storyteller so far in his short career. Election was brilliant but neglected, and About Schmidt was wonderful, and funny. Will that magic stretch on to Sideways, now nominated for Oscar's Best Picture award?

It took me days to put that DVD on my player, and press play. Today, I finally did it.

And I am most impressed.

Sideways is subtle and wonderful filmmaking. There is no Hollywood bombast here, just a richness full of that often forgotten ingredients of absorbing story, and complex and very human characters. The movie reminds me that the reason I love most of my favorite stories is because of their resonant metaphors. The metaphor here is obviously wine, our bedraggled Miles (the wonderful Paul Giamatti) clearly a bottle of fine Pinot (also my favorite wine), and the happy-go-lucky and irresponsible Jack (charmingly played by Thomas Haden Church) is the Cabernet.

Here's the scene that everyone is raving about...


Wow, this is really starting to open up. What do you think?

My palate's kind of shot, but from what I can tell, I'd dub it pretty damn good.

Can I ask you a personal question?

(Bracing himself) Sure.

Why are you so into Pinot? It's like a thing with you?

Miles laughs at first, then smiles wistfully at the question. He searches for the answer in his glass and begins slowly.

I don't know. It's a hard grape to grow. As you know. It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's not a survivor like Cabernet that can grow anywhere and thrive even when neglected. Pinot needs constant care and attention and in fact can only grow in specific little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing growers can do it really, can tap into Pinot's most fragile, delicate qualities. Only when someone has taken the time to truly understand its potential can Pinot be coaxed into its fullest expression. And when that happens, its flavors are the most haunting and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet.

Maya has found this answer revealing and moving.

I mean, Cabernets can be powerful and exciting, but they seem prosaic to me for some reason by comparison. How about you?

What about me?

I don't know. Why are you into wine?

I suppose I got really into wine originally through my ex-husband. He had a big, kind of show-off cellar. But then I found out that I have a really sharp palate, and the more I drank, the more I liked what it made me think about.

Yeah? Like what?

Like what a fraud he was.

Miles laughs.

No, but I do like to think about the life of wine, how it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer or if it rained... what the weather was like. I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle its going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive -- it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks -- like your '61 -- and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good.

Now it is Miles' turn to be swept away. Maya's face tells us the moment is right, but Miles remains frozen. He needs another sign, and Maya is bold enough to offer it: she reaches out and places one hand atop his.

(suppressing his panic) But I like a lot of wines besides Pinot, too. Lately I've really been into Rieslings. Do you like Rieslings? Rieslings?

She nods, a Mona Lisa smile on her lips. Come on, Miles. Finally --

(pointing) Bathroom over there?


Miles gets up and walks out. Maya sighs and gets an American Spirit out of her purse.

See the movie. It will remind you why we love personal movies in the very first place.

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich