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This is not a Soderbergh film. I’ve never considered him much of an auteur, despite considerable thematic and stylistic consistency in his work, but no film seems so far removed from his canon as this one. Yes it’s an epic, yes it’s in Spanish, yes it’s a biopic, but despite Soderbergh’s virginity in those categories, there is something much more distinct that makes Che such a remarkable piece of work. Clearly, it is the subversion of every expectation which separates this film from not only any other we have seen from the beloved revolutionary filmmaker, but also from any film in decades past.

To disclaim, however, I can make no attempt to evaluate this film in a typical manner. I won’t assign it a grade, nor while I provide any judgmental summary of my review. Such is the case both for the reason that I cannot decide (nor can Soderbergh) whether he has made two films or one, as well as for the reason that one viewing of the film seems entirely inadequate when attempting to assess, analyze, or even summarize it. Its story is so grand yet subtle, its visuals so electrifying yet confounding, and its performances so intense yet unsatisfying that I can only wonder how unique of a film Soderbergh intended to create and how much abstraction came entirely unexpectedly.

Part 1 (formerly known as Guerrilla) is the more daring, mystifying, yet intellectually and structurally engaging film of the two. In fact, just as the work as a whole is about involvement and participation, Soderbergh seems to be conducting a test on his audience, demanding not only an active viewer but one who is entirely aware of his or her own activity. Perhaps the situation will turn out to be applicable only to myself, but I cannot deny the way Part 1‘s narrative complexity mirrored its ideological complexity. To say that Soderbergh refused to make a Hollywood film would be not only a gross understatement but also an unfair simplification of what seem to be incredibly ambitious intentions.

Alternately and often simultaneously depicting Che’s address to the United Nations and his revolutionary activites in Cuba, Soderbergh provides visual distinction (as in Traffic) in a totally refreshing if initially distracting fashion. What was so fascinating to me is Soderbergh’s resistance to information. The point of a biopic, he seems to imply, is not to tell you about the events of a person’s life, or even to depict them at all. Rather extremely, he attempts to capture not even Che’s influential ideas, but the ideas which the society he inhabited surrounded him with. Less important than what incited Che’s drastic actions are the experiences that caused him to change while engaging in those actions.

I found the ideas racing through my head more stimulating than I had before with many other films. Although none of them were or are yet entirely crystallized, it is impossible to discredit the film for such complexity of vision. It is certainly not the narrative that thrusts Part 1, nor the visuals (though they truly are stunning), nor the charmingly zealous performance of Benicio Del Toro, but rather the thematic intricacies which demand further exploration.

What Soderbergh has accomplished in Part 1 can, through generalization, be considered an experiment, but what a grand and compelling experiment it became. It is an entirely new sort of filmmaking, especially within its genre, and while influence cannot yet be determined, it certainly makes the promise of further investigation by Soderbergh alone if not by many others. To call it a satisfying experience is neither accurate nor provocative, but it certainly becomes a memorable and integral piece of the puzzle which is Che as a whole.

Perhaps it is misleading to refer to the entire project as a whole film in any context, however. Part 2 proves to be such a radically different piece that its pairing with the one prior almost seems foolish. It is precisely the sort of “independent film” whose intensity Hollywood would often like to mimic. Its final act is the most nervous, tender, contemplative cinematic experience I’ve ever endured, and to call the entire film’s reflective nature Malickian would be cheap though not untrue. Che’s interaction with nature is certainly the core of the conflict, but nature, here, does not at all refer to wildlife in the way it often does in the recluse’s work.

The visual inventiveness in this film exceeds in magnificence that of any other Soderbergh work, if not any work altogether. It is a cinematographic accomplishment unparalleled by anything I can call to mind, and its enhancement of the uniquely compelling story is altogether orgasmic. Particularly in the final tragic moments, Soderbergh’s choices are felt but not seen, and the resulting intensity requires only speechlessness. The combat scenes are precisely like the work of Michael Bay, except the total opposite. They are calm, seductive, surprising, and contemplative. The violence is secondary to the nature of conflict itself, bringing ideological hostilities to the forefront.

Unlike the thematic basis for Part 1‘s structure, Part 2, while mostly episodic, is entirely tied to its story and suspense. It is a thriller unlike any film which proclaims itself a spot in that genre, and its appeal should hypothetically be mass, but that’s doubtful for obvious reasons. It is quite apparent, though, why this portion of the work has been received with greater enthusiasm. Certainly the more narratively engaging film, its ideas may be more subdued, but they can feasibly be deciphered. Still, this is ultimately the most gripping a film has been for some time, and Soderbergh’s mastery is the undoubted reason. Del Toro’s performance is also particularly good in this half, when he becomes a much more conflicted if not an entirely impenetrable character.

Che is a heroic film that demands to be seen, certainly on the biggest screen with the biggest audience, but, more importantly, with an open mind. Its experimentation is new not only in the way it is manifested but also in the manner in which it is performed. There is much more to say about the film and its achievements, and I cannot wait to not only see this again but, perhaps more importantly, discuss it with all of you!

Enchiladas!

Also, I get to write my first paper for Intro to Cinema about Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. I will post it here when it is finished. For now, here is the first paragraph. 

In Steven Soderbergh’s comedic crime film Out of Sight (1998), the ensemble of buffoonish crooks subverts the criminal stereotype. Jack Foley (George Clooney), the exception of the breed, carries on his shoulders the weight of society’s expectations of a criminal who is cunning, daring, and charming.  Through the chronologically jumbled and episodically structured trace of the character,  Soderbergh informs the creation of a new understanding of the common criminal; the exploration of two entirely distinct strains of miscreants reveals a duality not commonly recognized. 

Get excited! Lastly, Che has a distributor. Thank you, IFC.

This is the first installment in a new, totally sporadic feature of this old, totally sporadic blog. It’s called The Happiest Man In My Pants, and it will be all about things that make me The Happiest Man In My Pants. Ok, well, there’s really just one man in my pants (me), but it’s a reference to a very hilarious line from a very hilarious film, Steven Soderbergh’s Schizopolis (1996). This leads me to the topic of today’s installment of The Happiest Man In My Pants, Steven Soderbergh’s Schizopolis (1996). 

This is just a totally great and overlooked film. It begins in the following way: 

 

That’s Soderbergh (director, writer, producer, star, editor, cinematographer, composer, and stud) introducing the film. He acts in both lead roles in the film, firstly as office-worker/speech-writer Fletcher Munson and secondly as Dr. Jefrey Korchek DDS. Playing Munson’s wife is Soderbergh’s actual ex-wife, Betsy Brantley (awkward, huh?). In Act 2, we follow Korchek’s affair with Brantley’s character, Mrs. Munson/Attractive Woman #2. You follow?

So… Soderbergh has an affair with his wife, who is actually his ex-wife. 

This movie is just that awesome. Hilarity ensues. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Dr. Korchek writes/verbalizes a love letter to Attractive Woman #2 (who is also, as aforementioned, Mrs. Munson, Betty Brantley, Soderbergh’s ex-wife). Here’s a clip:

The film lacks narrative structure, but there are enough laughs and cheap thrills to satisfy any moviegoer. It has a Criterion Collection release, so please check it out. And, of course, be sure to pay full retail price, not some bargain rental or buy-2-get-1-free deal.  At the very least, look through some of the amazing quotes from this amazing film.

Hey there Laura! Thanks for reading.

Ok, apologies to those of you not named Laura. I love you just as much. I wanted to share with you one of the proudest moments of my life. I have been very afraid of libraries for as long as I can remember. Every time I go into a library, I feel like I’m about to get lost. No, not lost in the magical worlds of books, but, rather, in the endless, identical shelves of books that smell of must and musk.

I had a library card as a kid, but I think I stopped going around the age of eight (loyal readers now know that age eight was a monumental year for me). I had invented at least two or three traumatic stories of things that happened in the children’s section to tell my parents, so they wouldn’t ever take me back there. Now, ten years later, I was ready to give it another shot. Totally different library, by the way; the old, scary one is no longer standing.

Yes, I’m much older now, but I am truly frightened of little kids in groups lager than three, so I was pretty worried about what I might encounter. This was a different sort of library, though. It was in a strip mall, it was poorly marked, I had to walk through some sort of antique shop/garage sale just to get to it, and it seemed to be in a basement. These all made it extra scary, which thus made my feat all the more triumphant!

Yes, it’s true, I spent a solid 45 minutes in there, exploring every corner of every section, familiarizing myself with the work of Melvil Dewey, even chatting it up with the librarian. At the end of my browsing, I confidently approached the counter with one book and three obscurish movies, ready to go home a changed man. Of course, I needed a library card. Asking the disgruntled teenage employee for the necessary materials, my heart jumped a bit, causing my voice to quake and crack nervously. I’m sure she thought I was pretty weird, because of that and because I had selected 4 items she probably had never imagined to exist.

Oh well, I should be congratulated for conquering one of my oldest, deepest fears. So, yeah, this is the part where you leave a comment congratulating me. Thanks in advance!

The Top Ten Things I learned at USC Orientation:

10. Orange hair is intimidating.
9. Women with moderate to severe cases of man-face should still wear bras.
8. Nothing beats the view from floor 11 of Fluor tower.
7. Wahoo’s Fish Tacos will become a staple of my diet.
6. So will Krispy Kreme donuts.
5. I will gain weight, even though the gym is right next door.
4. My ability to pretend like I enjoy reading will be tested.
3. The coldest it gets at USC is the warmest it gets at my current residence.
2. Five-dollar shakes actually exist in California, and they are indeed quite tasty.
1. Tylenol PM can turn clouds into all the colors of the rainbow.

I haven’t been around much lately. I apologize for this; there is simply no excuse.

Something I really dislike is icebreakers. You know, those games you play in awkward group situations to try to ‘get to know’ everybody. They never work. People either try too hard to make a certain impression or, alternatively, don’t try at all and, typically, end up losing my interest.

A question that might commonly come up in one of these games is, “What is something most people don’t know about you?” or “Tell us something unique and interesting about yourself.”

I firmly believe that there is something unique and interesting about everyone, but such things never come up in these games. People always resort to mundane things like unique places they’ve lived, unusual hobbies they’ve maintained, or weird formations they can make with their tongues.

Let’s pretend I’ve been asked to play this game. A few things that, in the past, I would have shared:

1. I lived in Saudi Arabia
2. I’ve never broken a bone
3. I can’t whistle
4. I like to cook

The list pretty much ends there, though I would occasionally make up a hobby like stamp or rock collecting just to seem normal. Seriously, though, what’s normal about either of those two things?

Anyway, I’m really disappointed in myself for never sharing what is clearly the most unique and interesting thing about me in such settings. From the ages of 7 to 11, I didn’t eat a single bite with a fork. Just spoons. Maybe an occasional knife. But no forks.

The reason for doing so is, of course, completely irrational, but I’ll share nonetheless. My best friend, for a long time, was a kid named Teddy. We had a lot in common, and I really enjoyed spending time with him. However, Teddy didn’t value personal hygiene quite as much as myself. One morning, after Teddy had slept over, my parents made us breakfast. As Teddy took one bite after another of syrupy french toast, I became fixated on all the germs that were clearly escaping from Teddy’s polluted mouth and attaching themselves onto the prongs of his fork.

So repulsed by the thought, I vowed to never stick that fork in my own precious mouth. The only way to do so was to invent a more logical excuse. I carefully informed my parents of the dangers of forks, mostly the chance that a prong, if misdirected, could cause serious damage to the inside of my mouth.

Amazingly, they bought it. Well, maybe not, but they were willing to accept it as just one of those ‘phases’. Bemusement gave way to amusement, and they were able to have a private laugh about it.

Salads, steaks, and spaghetti certainly presented a challenge, but nothing was as discomforting for a shy pre-adolescent as coyly asking waiter after waiter for a spoon. Most of them didn’t question me, but those who did received an intimidating stare from my 9-year-old eyes. My parents, I’m sure, joked uncomfortably with them.

The end came too soon, when, at a Rainforest Cafe in Houston, I just had to give up. We had waited forever, my body was changing, and it looked delicious. Leave it to sausage.

It was a cool time in my life, and I was finally able to fully exploit it in a few college essays last fall. Hopefully you care.

Pure magic.

1. “Take on Me”, a-ha
2. “Heat of the Moment”, Asia
3. “Livin’ on a Prayer”, Bon Jovi
4. “Dancing in the Dark”, Bruce Springsteen
5. “Summer of ’69”, Bryan Adams
6. “Sunglasses At Night”, Corey Hart
7. “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”, Cutting Crew
8. “The Boys of Summer”, Don Henley
9. “Mr. Blue Sky”, Electric Light Orchestra
10. “Crocodile Rock”, Elton John
11. “Invisible Touch”, Genesis
12. “What is Life”, George Harrison
13. “Sooner or Later”, The Grass Roots
14. “Centerfold”, The J. Geils Band
15. “That’s All”, Genesis
16. “Somebody’s Baby”, Jackson Browne
17. “Jack & Diane”, John Mellencamp
18. “Down Under”, Men at Work
19. “Always Something There to Remind Me”, Naked Eyes
20. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, The Police
21. “Paint it Black”, The Rolling Stones
22. “We Built This City”, Starship
23. “Who Can it Be Now?”, Men at Work
24. “Magic Carpet Ride”, Steppenwolf
25. “Goodbye Stranger”, Supertramp

I have nothing to say. 

 

As a motivated but ultimately unambitious high school student, I have spent many years devising ways to make myself sound more intelligent than I actually am. One such way involves combining seemingly unrelated and perhaps paradoxical words into a powerfully descriptive packet of knowledge and wisdom.

 

For example, the reasonably familiar phrase “bold assertion” is adequately effective, but I much prefer “assertively bold” as a nearly synonymous replacement.  I suppose much of what I’m speaking of is not so much irregular combinations of words but rather simple transformations and inversions.  All I did in the above case was switch the order and appropriately make assertion an adverb. It sounds better, right?

 

I always expect one of my teachers/readers/graders/peers to see through my superficiality and discover the carefully masked clichés in my writing. Fortunately (pathetically?), this has not yet happened, and I have successfully, thoughtlessly produced several pieces that would have otherwise been mediocre. 

 

In fact, there is one I used a while back on this very blog that has really stuck with me. I used the phrase “thematic artistry” when referring to Joel and Ethan Coen’s agendas in No Country for Old Men.  I could have just said themes, which would have resulted in an equally uninspired but perhaps less impressive analysis.  Did I fool you? Probably not, but hopefully you’re at least intrigued by what a banana steak looks/tastes like.

 

Note: ‘Cupcakes’ rhymes with ‘Steaks’. Mmmmmm…cupcakes.

The following is factual.

1. Steven Soderbergh

Best film: Traffic
Worst film: Solaris
Up next: Che Guevara biopics Guerrilla and The Argentine (Soon)

2. Paul Thomas Anderson

Best film: Magnolia
Worst film: Sydney
Up next: Wish I knew

3. Joel and Ethan Coen

Best film: Fargo
Worst film: Raising Arizona
Up next: Burn After Reading (September)

 

Honorable Mentions:
David Fincher (Zodiac)
Paul Greengrass (United 93)
Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn)
Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line)