steven soderbergh is aware of all cinema traditions. all of them. he is aware of them all. (denver premieres 2/27/09)
Can Che Guevara haz cheezburger and wide-release in theaters now?
Che - If you take a little time to sort through the mountains of early reviews of Steven Soderbergh's many-minuted-meditation on the life and times of one-time, one-man importer/exporter of revolution and once-and-future king of t-shirts, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (GreenCine Daily's got a great round up of the Cannes buzz here, and late '08 squawk here), you get the sense that Soderbergh isn't necessarily interested in telling a political story in the conventional sense - a story of a sharpening sense of right and wrong and and then escalating choices, or of maturing or perverted personal politics - but assuming an entirely different perspective altogether, a pomo experiment that treats Guevara, right up front, as a kind of text: so if he is in fact now more textual than real, more than just a mere historical figure, Soderbergh seems to be saying, one for whom so many people around the world are continually attempting to "author" on their own even today, how do you go about assigning him one particular persona? Maybe Che is more like a question, one posed both to cinematic and narrative form: how do you bypass the intertextuality of Che Guevara, and what would a movie that could do that look like?
Che's audaciousness -it's length, it's subject matter, it's reflective, even confrontational style, it's nod to radical chic that will no doubt appeal more to cinephiles than dyed-in-the-wool-lefties, and the fact that it will probably take a few viewings to get a handle on, in spite of all of these things - is something to celebrate, a reminder of that movies can also challenge us as filmgoers and the baggage we often bring to movies ("did you like it, or not?"), and not just film fans. It's also great to see something like this swagger into theaters right now as we officially depart Hollywood's silliest season and are now expected to suck Zack Snyder's dick. (Dex)
The Class - In what could have easily been another paint-by-numbers film about an “Inspiring teacher and the students whose lives he changes,” Laurent Cantet’s The Class is rather a multi-leveled discussion on not only the subject of classroom dynamics within a urban middle school but also, in an allegorical sense, a study of the social pressures that have arisen of late in France that pit the country’s need for national identity against the multi-ethnic diversity of the increasing immigrant population. Structured as if it were a year-in-the-life type documentary, the film centers on a progressive minded teacher (ex-middle school teacher François Bégaudeau who wrote the memoir upon which the film is based) and his class of multi-cultural, multi-lingual students (played by untrained middle-school students) as they banter back and forth in a constant struggle for the upper hand position even in what seems to be the most inconsequential of matters. For the first two-thirds of the film, it rolls along in this manner without any overt plot points and it is in these scenes when the film seem most confident. It is only after a plot of sorts is introduced that the film hiccups a couple of times before getting back on track towards its subdued and contemplative ending. As the lights went up at the screening I attended during last year's Denver International Film Festival, I could overhear the comments floating around, and I realized that the subtext of film completely slipped by this well-heeled crowd. To them it was just a story about a teacher trying his best in a adversarial situation and how hard that must be. I would say The Class is subtle but not overtly so. How that audience reacted to the film and, I must say, how even professional critics like Minohla Dargis, David Denby and Andrew Sarris are all over the board on this one surprises me. Although it is not a movie that will blow you away with its brilliance, The Class is a solid movie made with care and one that will give you some food for thought after the credits roll. And really, that's not such a bad thing, considering that you won't have anything in theaters like it until well after the sugar-rush of a summer season is over. (Pike)
Jonas Brothers in 3-D - Catch them in their big screen debut before they shotgun their parents to death. (Dex)
Donkey Punch - This is another film that played at the Denver International Film Festival, but one that I purposefully avoided. A suspense thriller set on a yacht full of O.C. rejects, with a plot set in motion by the absolutely expected outcome of someone going through with the fabled donkey punch. (Honestly if you don’t know what it is, don’t look it up. You are a better person for not knowing!) Well that sounds positively stupid! If you want to read a good review of this movie, go read Wesley Morris’ take over at the Boston Globe were he writes, “Anyone looking for a stoned and bikinied update of L'Avventura, Purple Noon, Dead Calm, or other boat-bound chillers will have to settle for The Real World: Death Yacht." Well I'm glad to see that the film is not being falsely advertised. (Pike)
Echelon Conspiracy- A man (Shane West from E.R. and some movie Dex decided not to see) finds a magic cell phone that will grant him all of his worldly desires but some evil corporate and/or government types want it back and will stop at nothing to get it. I'm pretty sure that if you substitute the cell phone for a magic sheep's skin or animal horn of some kind, and you substitute the corporate/government types with the gods atop Mt. Olympus, there is a Greek myth that this story was pilfered from. The film also stars Ving Rhames, Ed Burns and Martin Sheen. (Pike)
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li- Steven Soderbergh's four-hour adaptation of the beloved two-player arcade game - one aficionados say did not achieve its full genius until its incarnation as a Sega Genesis cartridge - is doubly curious, as it's also a seq....oh, you know what? Here. Just, just - here. (Dex)
Two Lovers - The new film by director James Grey (Little Odessa, We Own the Night, The Yards) is yet another loose adaptation of the Dostoevsky short story White Nights, which puts it in the prestigious company of Luchino Visconti’s Le Notte Bianche, Robert Bresson’s impossibly hard to see Four Nights of a Dreamer, and the recent Bollywood epic Saawariya. Two Lovers is basically about a lonely man who falls hard for the capricious but unstable girl-next-door; all the while he is being set up by his parents with a stable daughter of some family friends. Emotional complications ensue for our hero who by the end will make the responsible choice he should have made in the first place, if only he could have realized that wild hearts can’t be tamed or some such nonsense. If you’ve been in the mood for one of those character driven relationship films that are normally released in the late fall as a "prestige picture", and the idea of Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix in the same movie doesn’t put you off, then this film might just be up your alley. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something with a little more artistic merit to it or at least a spectacular visual sense, then go rent the Visconti or the Bollywood film mentioned earlier. (Pike)